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How to become a top-notch health and medical tourism provider is not as easy as it sounds. The steadily increasing number of patients from the US and the world seeking treatments abroad has triggered a lot of hospitals in Asia Latin America and Europe to strategically position them in this expanding market.

Some are trying to do so alone while others have successfully formed health & medical tourism clusters to increase their chances of successfully marketing themselves to foreign patients.

Challenges in Health and Medical Tourism

Health & Medical tourism is a complex area of business that is influenced by many disciplines and stakeholders. For service providers in the medical field it is therefore quite a challenge to establish an effective and efficient organizational framework that successfully deals with this growing global business in the healthcare sector.

Many problems can arise for clinics and medical clusters when dealing with medical tourists it is therefore reasonable to take a closer look at the whole value chain ranging from the initial acquisition of patients to the management of after-care issues at the end of the patients stay.

The patients concerns generally revolve around topics such as obtaining correct and valid information his treatment abroad the quality of medical diagnosis/treatment and service patient safety and finally aspects of transparency communication and overall organization of his medical tourism trip.

Seven Steps to Success

For an International Department to be successful in daily operations and to be prepared to strategically keep abreast in the rapidly changing business of medical tourism it is necessary to combine and apply a matrix of several management tools to the overall organization of the operation. First of all it is necessary to implement a project management system that defines the project goals the project manager and the project team and provides a structured framework for at least one year of organizational development.

This is crucial as the daily workload in medical institutions is often tremendous and the projects risk of being aborted would otherwise be too high.As the main criteria for medical tourists is the quality of the medical care and service units of the institution setting up - or if already implemented - continuously improving a recognized quality management system applied to the international department becomes the key task for such a project.

To adapt the products and services to the requirements of the medical tourists and to continuously monitor their satisfaction is a unique management responsibility.As the patients are cared for and advised by the international department having in place a high performance team is crucial to the operation.

As the team often has to deal with foreign customers in exceptional conditions (e.g. severe diseases) under severe time constraints and is often composed of employees of different ethnic backgrounds guidelines for change management conflict management communication and systemic organizational development tools should be outlined and implemented.

At the beginning of any successful management process there should be a clear definition of ones mission vision and goals. Only from here can a valid strategy of how the department is going to position and market itself be developed. The most relevant step however is how this strategy is eventually operationally implemented by the team and its management.

The balanced scorecard approach provides a powerful performance management tool for measuring whether the smaller-scale operational activities of the organization are aligned with its larger-scale objectives in terms of vision and strategy.

Based on a solid foundation of a high performance team business administration topics like marketing controlling risk management sales and information technology should be part of a regular training program that keeps members of the team up-to-date and in the continuous process of improving the relevant methods and tools for their day-to-day work.

Since information technology will be one of the main keys of transformation in the business of medical tourism next to increasing globalization and increased consumerism a consulting project ignoring this topic would produce inadequate overall results in the long term.

The international department team has to be trained and prepared for modern approaches in the fields of knowledge management online marketing virtual patient communities e-health solutions and business intelligence. Web portal solutions for medical tourism should coordinate all the relevant processes required to ensure successful healthcare interventions for the patient his doctor(s) as well as all other involved parties.

Nobody plans to fail but many fail to plan. It is therefore extremely important to develop a strategic business plan. Such a plan helps the management to systematically think through all aspects of successfully running their business.

This will help the team to continuously reevaluate the current business model and consider the market with its chances and risks adequately. Moreover it cultivates a sustainable improvement of products & services marketing sales and the team. Finally and most importantly it is the key instrument to evaluating whether the teams goals will be accomplished within the constraints of time money and workforce.

Best Practices in Europe

The above mentioned consulting methods and tools are currently being successfully applied to the International Office of the University Clinic Hamburg Eppendorf (IO UKE). It is the leading department in this sort of strategic business of university hospitals in Germany if not in all of Europe.

In its initial one year plan this pioneering project will lead to the implementation of a comprehensive quality management system especially designed for the needs of such an international and interdisciplinary department in Europe's most modern university clinic.

The next step in the evolution of this specific quality management system in 2010 will be to transfer the experiences and developments made within the International Office in the IO UKE to some of the other leading clinics of the BAVARIA: A Better State of Health medical cluster which currently serves as a marketing platform for approximately 80 Bavarian clinics and over a dozen medical tourism facilitator agencies. Taking this into account this web platform is currently Europe's biggest medical tourism cluster initiative.

Dr. med. Robert Gerl (MBA) is the German coordinator and co-founder of the European joint-educational MBA program on health & medical tourism cross-border healthcare & health destination management at the University of Applied Sciences in Deggendorf/ Bavaria where he is also assigned as associate professor. He has initiated this MBA program in 2008 together with Tomas Mainil from Breda University in Netherlands. Meanwhile several leading European Universities have joined the program.

The initiative is also funded by the Bavaria California Technology Center. In 2008 he co-founded the company German Healthcare Services and in 2009 the subdivision of German Healthcare Consulting. He is currently commissioned to consult in a one year quality management project at the International Office of Europe's most modern University Clinic the UKE Hamburg-Eppendorf.

Moreover he is consulting the Bavarian State Ministry of Environment and Public Health on marketing Bavarian clinics on a national European and global level. In 2009 he is planning to do further consulting projects on medical tourism in Europe within the exchange program of Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.

Fred Basalama is Managing Director of GERHS German Health Services. His focus is on Solutions for Telemedicine Healthcare Customer Relationship Management and Mobile- and Media-Services for medical tourism. Currently he is responsible for the integration of the telemedicine services with the GERHS Medical Tourism Portal.

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