Medical tourism can be susceptible to variations in the flow of patients received in a destination due to various factors such as economic crises, language barriers, politics and affinity relations, among others. Patients will make their choice based on reasons that will benefit them, like international accreditation, safety and physician expertise. So how can hospitals beat their competition? What can they do to ensure that patients will come to them?
Medical destinations strive to attract international customers by offering cutting edge technology, medical expertise, good testimonials and a safe structure. And they are right in doing so. However, not all customers are looking for a discount on the bill or a low cost procedure. There are other factors of extreme importance that the medical tourism industry, especially the facilitators, have to understand.
Hospitality and humanization of care are integral to the attraction and recovery of patients and to the reputation of a medical institution.
Be hospitable without just being a hospital
One of the most common features observed in happy patient testimonials is the praise for the hospitality, warmth and caring with which they were treated, reflecting the high degree of humanization of care in these countries.
The way patients are cared for, the looks, voice, time spent and affection given by staff and the medical team often leaves them deeply impressed. In addition to successful results, patients will never forget their experience and will pass along a good word.
Of course, the most important thing is to achieve the best medical results desired by the patient through the treatment or surgery, but with highly reliable treatments being given across the world, it became a commodity like high technology – almost everyone has it. Adding this characteristic to the humanization of the care, hospitals have the perfect formula to match and fulfill patients’ wants with their needs.
Hospitals are also making changes to their accommodations. Instead of ordinary rooms with the usual equipment (air conditioning, automatic bed, flat screen TV and desk), many hospitals around the world have created superb rooms to impress patients.
Some features include: wooden panels, direct and indirect lighting, sound systems, brand name amenities, colorful furniture, big windows with picturesque views, wireless Internet connection, wide range of programs, books and magazines from the patient’s country and spare rooms for a family member, assistants or security guards.
Some hospital rooms also include a large meeting room with sofa and a ten-seat table. The services include a concierge, a ward butler to help in every moment of the stay and waiters to serve the meals.
This creates the feeling of a hotel but with hospital services. How much will this help in the recovery of the patient’s health? Maybe not at all. But it will help keep the patient satisfied beyond just the treatment or surgery.
These complimentary hospitality services can increase patient trust in the institution and the perception of quality it provides. If the hospital pays attention to minor details with services, the doctors will do the same, making the hospital a reliable place to seek treatment.
In fact, there are studies conducted years ago showing the importance of the environment to a patient’s recovery. If a patient feels good enough, he shows a higher tendency to adhere to the treatment and aftercare needed. The same way a good environment can contribute to the patient’s recovery, a bad one can produce dissatisfaction and harm the propensity of adherence.
Understanding the various niches
Within the medical tourism industry, it is possible to target various niches of patients with different needs and desires. For many patients, cost of treatment is not an issue. For example, heads of state, ministers and high profile people look for hospitals that will give them great care while guaranteeing that their treatment will be performed in secrecy. They long to escape the press and are not concerned with money.
For others, they might seek treatment even if it is expensive because it is not available in their home state. For instance, some North Americans might look for cancer treatments not yet approved by the FDA. Many patients do not have the time to wait for FDA approval and choose to seek the therapy abroad.
If they are truly sick, they will want to stay in the hospital that will not only offer the treatment but that will also make them the most comfortable. If they can afford the best, they will pay for the best.
Additionally, there are people from all over the world looking for traditional and nonconventional treatments, such as ayurveda in India or the traditional medicine in China. For many years, Brazil and other African countries have attracted patients who are not concerned with how much they spend but exactly the type of surgery they seek.
Spiritualist surgery, considered and punished by some countries as quackery or witchcraft, can be performed without legal restrictions. It may not be a great niche market, but it is enough to keep alive one of the oldest ways of healing and treatment known to humankind.
Facilities that provide these unique therapies must have a plan to attract this niche market directly, and medical tourism professionals should be ready to show them the destination possibilities that best suit their tastes and needs.
How attentive are facilitators and hospitals around the world to getting these kinds of patients? Hospitals should create a department that works exclusively on attracting these patients and managing their stay. Offering more than just the medical treatment will help a facility rise above its competition.
Superb accommodations, greater attention, humanization and hospitality services will attract more patients, those looking for a complete medical experience, not just a cheap surgery.
About the Author
Adalto Felix de Godoi is a professor and hospitality professional with several books published about hospitality at hospitals in Brazil and abroad. He also works coordinating the administration of a Brazilian top hospital and as a consultant in healthcare. His background include a graduation in Management by the University of London/LSE, specialization in strategic people management and an Executive MBA in strategic management by the University of São Paulo/USP.