International Patient Programs focused on patient care can be lucrative to a hospital’s bottom-line. A healthcare organization wanting to raise the bar in its ability to attract patients from around the world can set itself apart by offering innovation and competitively priced procedures. As the industry grows, the competitiveness of international patient programs will be distinguished by the global affiliations negotiated and the long-term relationships established.
Although it is impossible to know how many friends and family members accompany medical tourists every year, we know from industry reports and our own research that it is very common for them to do so, regardless of country of origin or financial status.
It is indeed amazing that these individuals are able to fade so effectively into the background (in terms of their invisibility in industry reports and discussions) because they are almost always beside the medical tourist they are accompanying.
They often sleep in the medical tourist’s room, eat their meals with the medical tourist, relax with the medical tourist, and go to appointments with them. Looking at these companions’ roles and experiences a little closer is necessary, even if it is just to understand how their extensive presence affects patient health and facility routines.
The little discussion that does exist about the friends and family members who accompany medical tourists abroad suggests that they are actually beneficial to medical tourists’ health. Just by being there, they can lower a medical tourist’s stress levels because they are a familiar presence in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.
The lower stress, in turn, can reduce recovery time. They also help facility staff to better care for the medical tourist by facilitating communication. For example, a companion can typically retain information better than a medical tourist who is distracted by pain and anxiety, and that companion can repeat the retained information to the medical tourist when needed.
Conversely, a medical tourist may not be able or willing to communicate changes in symptoms, but a companion, who is more likely than not by the medical tourist’s side at all times, can flag changes to a healthcare provider. They also help with everyday tasks.
During the recovery period, medical tourists are often incapable of doing everyday things like bathing and getting dressed by themselves, so their accompanying friends or family members can help them with these tasks.
Furthermore, these companions can help patients to follow clinical advice before departure to the destination country and during the recovery period, like refraining from drinking, doing exercises or taking medication. They also do the facility paperwork, handle the finances, and figure out travel information to navigate the foreign city, among other tasks.
….They can lower a medical tourist’s stress levels because they are a familiar presence in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.
Friends and family members who accompany medical tourists are not just helpful people that make things easier for patients and facility staff alike. They can also be big stressors for both groups because the companions themselves tend to become stressed by the trials and tribulations of caring for someone while abroad.
This stress plays out in challenging ways. Companions’ stress can cause them to intentionally or unintentionally neglect medical tourists’ needs altogether or, alternatively, they may be present, but their stress overwhelms medical tourists.
Both of these scenarios can, in turn, create stress for medical tourists and makes caring for them more challenging.
A third scenario may also happen when companion stress plays out as over-protectiveness that makes them uncooperative with facility staff.
This again makes it challenging for staff to provide quality care to the patient because rules and routines are disrupted, and their time, attention, and resources need to be diverted.
Moreover, companion stress itself is a health and safety risk and exposes them to further similar risks.
“Friends and family members are already beneficial to the medical tourism industry, and they can be more so with industry support.”
Medical tourism facilities can support accompanying friends and family members by being dedicated to collaboration. Our research suggests that collaboration is the key to keeping stress levels down for everybody involved. The following points offer guidance toward fostering this collaboration:
- It is helpful if facilities have someone on staff whose primary role is to assist patients and their friends and family members with non-clinical needs like coordination, answering questions, and addressing concerns. When someone like this is in place, it is easier to provide the support needed for collaboration to occur.
- Educating companions can relieve some of the anxiety they feel. Tell them in advance what they should expect from the medical tourism experience, such as details about the surgery and the facility, the likely schedule from arrival to departure, and what to expect during the recovery process.
- Building a relationship with companions is important. They greatly benefit from having someone to listen to them, offer comfort, and answer their questions like how to get a taxi.
- Incorporating companions into the facility’s caregiving expectations, and being prepared to treat them as part of the caregiving team goes a long way. Even if companions just want to offer quiet moral support to the patient, that’s something that medical tourism facilities cannot offer with as much meaningfulness as a loved one can.
It is important for facilities to work with the accompanying friend or family member toward their mutual goal: a healthy and happy patient.
Too many friends and family members accompany medical tourists abroad to be overshadowed and ignored any longer. The care they offer to the medical tourists they accompany, and the impact they can have on medical tourism facilities makes them an important part of the medical tourism industry.
This is because they can influence patients’ health and healthcare. Overall, they largely tend to be helpful to facility staff and patients, especially when there is a willingness from both the facilities and the companions to collaborate toward the patient’s care.
Facilities can take steps to encourage this collaboration. Friends and family members are already beneficial to the medical tourism industry, and they can be more so with industry support.
The information we have shared here is the result of an ongoing study conducted by the Simon Fraser University Medical Tourism Research Group and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We acknowledge the ongoing support of our study collaborators Drs. Jeremy Snyder and Leigh Turner.
To learn more about this study or follow our publications, go to www.sfu.ca/medicaltourism or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Authors
Dr. Valorie Crooks, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, specializes in health services research and founded the SFU Medical Tourism Research Group. She currently holds a Scholar Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research to support her research on the health equity impacts of medical tourism in destination countries.
Victoria Casey completed her Master of Arts in Geography at Simon Fraser University. Through her research, she helped to establish a foundational understanding of the friends and family members who accompany medical tourists abroad from an industry perspective. She is a member of the SFU Medical Tourism Research Group.