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Gaps in Medical Tourism: Missing the Mark with Buyers of Healthcare

Jonathan Edelheit
Medical Tourism Association

As a national third-party administrator, I first introduced medical tourism to fully insured and self-funded plans almost a decade ago. Since then, I have been extremely disappointed by the responses from hospitals and governments, which continue to offer all-to-familiar unsophisticated approaches for promoting medical tourism options designed for self-funded and fully insured plans. Handsome brochures that point to captivating websites are no longer enough to sustain patient flows.

Despite gains in the number of patients traveling abroad for medical treatments, more than a few hospital administrators, employers or insurance companies have failed to interpret those advantages into their benefit programs.

Have any of these parties – while evaluating their medical tourism options – stopped to realize they have neglected to educate or engage insured employees – their potential health and wellness travelers. It’s easy to point fingers and blame each other. But, the fact remains, trust between provider and consumer is a gap in the medical tourism industry that begs to be filled.

Hospitals and governments that promote medical travel must accept the responsibility for bringing employers or insurance executives on board. The challenge should not be understated. Hospitals, for the most part, and their government counterparts lack the experience required to define medical travel for insurance companies and their employer clientele.

They are unaware of the processes involved including the communication vehicles that transmit program information to potential medical travel consumers. Sadly, the limited advice forwarded to insurance companies and employers offers little meaningful communication and not much more “utilization” of medical travel benefits.

Consider: what employer or insurance company would risk contracting with a hospital without an initial introduction or the personal interaction with a physician so critical to confidence and trust? Why haven’t hospitals produced high-quality videos of their doctors along with treatment testimonials to build a comfort zone for potential patients?

And for the providers who have recognized the value of media, why haven’t more hospitals realized that poor-quality videos can actually have a reverse effect on patient attitudes toward medical travel abroad? Fair or not, poor videos can – in the eyes of patients – be perceived for poor medical care.

Think for a moment: what patients would extend themselves to secure a passport, board a plane with a loved one or companion and fly 4-24 hours to a foreign destination without the advanced trust in physician training and dedication to quality and safety at a hospital chosen from a brochure?

Imagine going to a restaurant – blindfolded and with a nose pin blocking the ability to see and smell the food about to be eaten. Even the hungriest of customers would most likely decline the invitation. So, why, then, do so many hospitals expect patients to travel for medical travel or, for that matter, influential buyers to contract for their services?

Hospitals and governments need to brand their destinations and treatments with unique and clever messaging that seductive brochures and website can’t accomplish.

Most hospitals and medical tourism facilitators incorporate outlook, excel and word. A few fortunate entities use basic CRMs to email medical records in unsecured formats – a violation of European, U.S. and many other international privacy laws.

Buyers of healthcare would be shocked at the number of hospitals that claim to protect specific privacy laws when, the truth is, they lack the technology to comply with those provisions. These hospitals are at-risk to news reports that would expose them to be a pariah among buyers globally.

Destinations including healthcare providers and government agencies need to promote medical travel like any other health insurance or employee benefit by focusing on:

• Education

• Creating enrollment material for all mediums

• Onsite enrollment meetings • Video engagement

• Coordination with buyers to “catch” conditions prior to surgery

• Engagement = medical travel “utilization”

• No Engagement = no “utilization”

The fact is: alluring brochures, provocative websites and welcoming smiles don’t cut it anymore.

Technology can reduce gaps in the medical travel industry. But, investment is required. Nothing comes without an expenditure in human resources, technology and, most certainly, determination. For those who are serious, email me. For those of you who aren’t, keep running in place for a few years and then reach out when you really want to achieve.

About the Author

Jonathan Edelheit is CEO of the Medical Tourism Association®. He has been featured in media and consults employers, governments, healthcare providers and insurers on implementing medical tourism. jon@medicaltourismassociation. com; 561-204-3676; ext. 815.

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