Marketing Strategies in Healthcare Tourism
Attracting international patients is at the core of the medical tourism market, and as the industry becomes more competitive, the big players will be distinguished by their ability to attract foreign medical travelers.
Marketing is the central factor for success in the health tourism industry, and leading hospitals and countries with a huge influx of medical travelers are those with strong marketing strategies which meet the needs of these patients.
Top destinations for medical tourism today include Thailand, India, Mexico, South Korea, Malaysia and more, which combine strategies for affordability and quality of healthcare with the availability of attractive sights to offer patients a relaxing ambiance during recovery. In Europe, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Poland are gradually becoming choice destinations for medical tourism, according to the 2016 Medical Tourism Index Report.
The strategies for building a successful brand in the medical tourism market center on meeting the needs of the typical international medical traveler and most of these strategies require a strong public-private collaboration.
Quality of Healthcare and Accreditation
One of the drivers for medical travel is the quality of healthcare. As competition in the market of health travel becomes fiercer, players in the industry have adopted a number of strategies to increase their service value and quality in order to distinguish them from their competitors.
A few of these strategies include the availability of state-of-the-art medical infrastructure, expanding training and expertise in specific medical specialties, building strong collaborations with leading hospitals and healthcare institutions, and investing in technology and precision medicine.
Building expertise in a specific field has placed hospitals like Asklepios Clinic Barmbek on center stage in Europe’s health travel industry. The hospital received an award for its quality healthcare services especially in the areas of breast cancer surgery and surgical oncology.
Its specialized Breast Center as well as Intestine and Pancreas Center has attracted medical tourists from other parts of Europe who require highly specialized surgical procedures. In addition, Asklepios Clinic Barmbek is one of the leading centers in cancer therapy, providing cutting-edge services in surgical oncology as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and it has become a hub for cancer patients across Europe.
Accreditation, which validates the quality of healthcare service provided in an institution, is another factor which determines the trend of the medical tourism market. Hospitals which have received a stamp of quality service by international accreditors such as the Joint Commission International (JCI) tend to attract more medical tourists.
These accreditors evaluate healthcare services provided in healthcare facilities, as well as the quality and competence of healthcare professionals in these facilities, and compare it with pre-established performance standards.
Medical Travel Accreditation
While ensuring high-quality healthcare services is fundamental to any marketing or branding strategy, hospitals must not overlook the importance of the patient experience in medical travel and how it will impact marketing and competitiveness. In 2016, the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program was established as the first and only independent accrediting body focused on the medical travel patient and enhancing the Medical Travel Care Continuum (all touchpoints including pre- and post-treatment).
GHA accreditation helps healthcare providers improve their competitiveness and visibility by enhancing the patient experience, improving business performance, and connecting providers with buyers of healthcare services.
Individuals across the spectrum from buyer to provider to patient all recognize the value of accreditation. In the last six months, GHA has accredited top performing hospitals around the globe including Cleveland Clinic, USA, Bumrungrad International Hospital, Thailand, and St. Catherine Specialty Hospital, Croatia.
Countries and hospitals that offer high-quality healthcare services at affordable and highly competitive prices are taking a higher share of the health tourism market.
For example, as of 2016, the cost of hip replacement surgery, which is one of the common orthopaedic procedures, was quoted at $40,364 in the United States, while in Thailand and India, patients could undergo the same hip replacement at the same quality at a price of $17,000 and $7,000 respectively.
These price differences have encouraged patients – particularly from North America and Europe – to travel to these countries to get medical treatment in a bid to save money while still maintaining the quality of healthcare received.
Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand has become a hub for international medical travelers who need surgery for complex diseases. Serving more than 1 million patients every year, over 500,000 of which are international patients from over 190 countries, Bumrungrad International Hospital has become a significant player in the medical tourism market.
In addition to the quality of its services, Bumrungrad offers transparent and affordable pricing packages, being one of the few hospitals that post their price packages online. Through its program, REALCOST, patients can view price packages on the internet for over 70 procedures performed at the hospital.
Governmental support can also contribute to incentivizing health tourism. For example, Turkish Airlines, the country’s national carrier, gives discounts for flights to medical travelers as a way of boosting the influx of international patients.
Healthcare Professionals and Infrastructure
Patients want to feel confident about the competence and qualifications of a facility’s healthcare professionals. International medical travel is also driven by the availability of cutting-edge technological infrastructure in the chosen destination.
A major marketing strategy in the health tourism market, therefore, is improving the quality of healthcare personnel and infrastructure. A case in point is Malaysia, a country that has experienced phenomenal growth in the health tourism market over the last decade.
According to a report by Global Risk Insights, the Malaysian government invested $5.2 billion (approximately 10% of its annual budget) into healthcare in 2016, with the investment largely funding growth in medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare services. One of the major achievements is the country’s transition from importing medical devices and equipment from foreign companies, to establishing a state-of-the-art medical equipment manufacturing company in Penang, ultimately boosting its potential as a hub for medical tourism.
Another strategy employed by leading hospitals is to display the number and qualifications of their health professionals on their websites. Bumrungrad, for example, displays over 1,200 physicians and surgeons, more than 220 of whom are US trained and board-certified. This factor alone has contributed enormously to the influx of medical travelers, especially those from western countries.
International collaborations may also help professional mobility, promoting the influx of healthcare professionals from world-class partner hospitals.
International Medical Travel Department
Medical tourists travel to countries which provide not only quality and affordable healthcare services, but also a comfortable experience. Hospitals must provide strategies that promote a stress-free experience for the patient to attract more international patronage.
A hospital’s international medical department is the easiest way to reach target customers. The services of this department include providing prospective medical tourists with valuable information about the services offered and preventing communication barriers by availing trained staff who speak multiple languages to ensure easy communication with patients.
Other marketing strategies used by international travel departments include liaising with patients directly or through medical travel agents to provide medical transportation into and within the destination country. Providing online immigration services, one-to-one nursing care, Wi-Fi services, hotel reservations, recreational and tour services during recovery, and restaurant services to ensure a smooth experience for the patient are also becoming the norm.
As in every industry, success in the medical tourism industry depends on knowledge and proper execution of key strategies which must center on the need of the prospective consumers. Building a viable medical tourism market, therefore, requires collaborations between the public and private healthcare sectors.