It seems that as the industry of medical tourism continues to rise, many healthcare providers, governments and facilitators want to get into the game, but really do not know how to go about doing so. We interviewed two medical tourism consultants to get an idea as to what target market opportunities are available and how to go about growing your business while delivering the highest quality medical care services.
Alex Piper, President of One World Global Healthcare Solutions has a history of working for big corporate America. As the former buyer for healthcare for Chrysler, Piper knows what to look for in market opportunities but also realizes there are many challenges for marketing medical tourism to the employer marketplace. Piper believes, “To lay a foundation, my premise is not only that the US market is ripe; but that there is a definite sweet spot with large employers. Large employers need this.”
Piper describes the decision process as resting in the hands of benefits managers trying to go about day to day getting benefits for employees. “As you go up the scale, the senior executives in charge of human resources unload it, and that’s their program for the year. Most open enrollment periods happens during the last month of the year whereby employees can change restrictions. I am putting that in perspective in an effort to take the mystery out of it,” he adds.
Piper sees that the opportune employer for medical tourism could be one of the employers in Fortune 50 or 100 lists that have been on that list for the past two decades. “A multinational which has global exposure, a large number of retirees, may have gone through retrenching processes once or twice in that period of time. It could also be an employer in small to mid-range scale that is in a geographical location such as Texas or Arizona which has a rich diversity in its employee population. The bottom line is, looking at the macro view; they are looking to save a dollar,” he states.
While some believe that proving quality is the essential problem right now with implementation of medical tourism into employer health plans, Piper disagrees. “Quality is less of an issue. The melting pot of the U.S. is diverse and we are open to health care services on a global basis. 20-25% of America does not have a closed view and economics drives change. People who have nothing at all are gravitating towards medical care elsewhere,” he says.
Michael Horowitz, President of Medical Insights International believes quality is a major issue. “People throw that word around a lot, and ideas thrown around that don’t hold water. A careful understanding of the role of standards and accreditation is required, along with the differences between that and benchmark outcomes,” he warns.
“Another aspect of medical tourism is the role of government as facilitator in developing quality metrics, health information technology, personal electronic medical records and cost allocations; the government is concerned with uninsured, and the uninsured are largely in New York, Texas, California, Florida, and Illinois. These are states where we have the biggest population numbers. Whether we are talking about a big company or government, we are looking at the same thing. Government and large employers are facing the same issues of cost and quality,” adds Piper.
Companies like One World Global Healthcare Solutions and Medical Insights International dedicate their time to assisting providers in this area. Horowitz describes his role in the industry, as their name denotes, as providing insight, assisting clients to “cultivate potential opportunities out there by providing information and contacts, key insights and ideas,” he states.
“Our clients are medical facilities that are considering entry into the medical tourism marketplace as providers. They also include organizations engaged in medical tourism; want to do it better; and protect their existing marketplace and patient base inclusive of payers, agents and corporate executives looking to reduce costs or improve quality using an outsource facility.”
And exactly where is this “sweet spot?” Piper believes, “The market between 50 years of age and Medicare availability is a sweet spot right now. The key to marketing medical tourism effectively from the perspective of sellers and intermediaries is marketing the nascent industry of medical tourism as a whole.”
Piper uses business to business platforms to catalyze the industry, marketing to businesses in the same way that every other successful company does their marketing strategies. “As a provider, one goal is to get buy-in from benefits manager; then provide a turnkey package that is professional, easily communicated and vertically integrated,” he said.
On the other hand, Horowitz does not see this opportunity as promising. “Disincentives are in place, liability is big barrier, and as a group, U.S. physicians may become more and more familiar with medical tourism. However, they may not initiate this because of liability issues,” he warns.
“The challenges for the industry as a whole would be to define exactly what this industry does and what it does not do. And to constrain the industry within some definition would be helpful. Many are interested in spa and wellness aspects, which are a very challenging question, and a potentially valuable component. It may be considered two parts of the same industry, but when we bring spa and wellness into medical tourism, it seems a little less focused,” claims Horowitz.
So where can we see this industry in the future? Horowitz sees this as a matter of more delineated definitions as to what medical tourism is and how it relates to the American healthcare system. “The best providers will be thriving; the lesser providers will drop out of service such that the rising tide will float seaworthy ships. It will be a more mature industry, following globalization trends.”
When asked about the 2008 First Annual World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress held in San Francisco, Piper believes it was a great success. “I am a veteran of 10 years of Event Planning experience with a major U.S. Corporation and the Congress was one of the most professional, well organized and exquisitely executed industry events I can recall.
From beginning to end, the Congress lived up to its advertising and attendees were given more than their money’s worth in presentations, working sessions, workshops, networking and social opportunities. Kudos to the Medical Tourism Association and I look forward to next year’s event in San Francisco,” he added.