Dr. Prem Jagyasi, a renowned medical tourism consultant offers in-depth insight into the growing business of medical tourism facilitator, the expected role, opportunities and challenges present, along with guidance on essential requirements for success.
The robust growth currently witnessed by the medical tourism industry necessitates a sound support system that meticulously bridges the gap between the demands of consumers and the supplies of providers.
A medical tourism support system goes far beyond the obvious arrangements like travel, accommodation, medical services, pre & post-operative care and tourism activities. It needs to meticulously deliver impeccable services.
Why Patients Need A Support System
Consider this; a family based in Connecticut wants to get a coronary bypass done for their ailing grandfather. Great help is at hand, a great team of doctors, superbly appointed facilities, but there is just a minor issue of health insurance. The family scans the Internet and comes up with cheaper, but equally well equipped options. Contact is established with the medical provider; travel arrangements are afoot.
The family surfs some more in an effort to combine some fun by way of sight-seeing Phew! That was going to be no easy task – visas, legalities, pickups and drop offs, in-country, and in-city travel arrangements. In small strides, through a fully functional team of hands-on professionals – bingo! All arrangements along with a set date with the most capable yet cost-effective service provider are accomplished almost effortlessly. This is the genesis of Medical Tourism Facilitator.
The process of deciding on medical tourism is no doubt a challenging task for a medical traveler. It requires critical preparations such as identification of reliable providers, flawless travel arrangements, and an understanding of preoperative and postoperative arrangements, amongst many other steps involved in the planning.
Because of the complexity of this decision-making process, some medical travelers seek help from travel agents or international patient departments of the hospitals or concierge service providers. All these agencies could act as intermediaries, but none of them could offer flawless comprehensive medical tourism support services as a one-stop facilitator.
This lacuna at one level or the other, coupled with complex decision making gives birth to the concept of Medical Tourism Facilitator, which is an agency with the team of professionals equipped to offer a seamless combination of complicated arrangements within medical tourism.
Before I enunciate the role expected to be essayed by a Medical Tourism Facilitator, I would like to touch upon the concern shrouding the medical tourism industry.
Lack of government emanated legal issues has ensured that the sector has become an easy “Quick Start”. As a result, robust tribes of new facilitators are cropping on the eighth continent – The Internet – and are raising major concerns for the growth of medical tourism industry.
Dependence on Internet as a source of information has thrown the Medical Tourism industry against several hurdles due to the negative comments focused not on the benefits, but on the pitfalls. They are posted liberally on various blogs. Hence, the concept still remains largely unreliable or fraudulent.
The role of Medical tourism facilitators becomes extremely significant for the growth of medical tourism in wake of this growing criticism; after all they represent patients’ first face-to-face contact with the entire concept of medical tourism. Thus, it becomes vital that the facilitators put forth authorized and authentic meaning of Medical Tourism as not a mere tourism sojourn or medical trip, but a high quality medical treatment with a “Touch of Tourism”.
Integrated knowledge of medical services, tourism & travel facilitation and concierge services which form a three-dimensional support to the traveler is central to the business and a must have for any Medical Tourism Facilitator. So with such responsibilities resting on them, they play an important function of bridging the gap between industry players and the consumer.
The Growth Opportunities
Evidently, medical tourism is growing rapidly; it is gaining fame and widening the competition with more than 100 countries offering medical tourism, or entering this industry. It is rated as one of the world’s fastest growing industries despite the current economic downturn. There exists an unchartered territory for a sound Medial Tourism Facilitator business to capture a significant share of total industry and emerge a definite winner.
The Essentials, A Must-Have Armory
Medical Tourism Facilitators, which are those companies acting as one stop enablers for medical tourism patients involved, should operate with three essential and some optional components to deliver the best experience.
Understanding of Medical Services
Like any other industry, Consumer is King and it is of utmost importance that the facilitator understands what travelers want and accordingly, what pitches to make to genuine providers. It is crucial to develop a sound patient-provider matrix. Since one can’t rely only on online information which tends to often mislead; facilitators therefore should act as reliable and sensitive consultants.
Awareness of ethical medical procedures, medico-legal law and accreditation systems of the provider play an important role. Again, pre-and postoperative arrangements are of utmost importance. This requires that the Medical Tourism Facilitators have a basic understanding of the medical subject so that they can confidently explain their offered services with all the technical details, thereby providing better medical/healthcare experience.
Knowledge of Tourism & Travel Activities
Such comprehension should not be limited only to obvious activities such as travel booking, accommodation arrangements, tourism exposure guidance, but should include understanding of environmental, cultural, political, security, and community factors of the destination.
Development of customized benefits with special need arrangements, interpreter provision and preparation of unexpected services in case of unsuccessful medical treatment are some of the critical points.
A key component of wholesome experience for travelers deals with destination management by third party providers. These specialized professionals take care of a medical tourist’s entire trip right from pick up from airport to booking hotel accommodation; from a hospital consultation visit and surgery to assistance in the post-op check up; and finally delivering the patient back to the airport.
Additionally a facilitator should be available for the traveler in case of any unexpected incident. Concierge Services must be well understood by the facilitator to provide that “door step” service experience to the medical tourist so that they do not face any trouble either in finding accommodation or the hospital or in reaching back to their countries.
If the medical traveler is traveling with an international insurance policy or through an employer, he/she may not be aware of any formalities required by providers and insurance companies. In such case, a facilitator should pre-arrange all necessary documentation to avoid any unnecessary delay in the treatment.
Expecting the Unexpected
Medical services are not without complication; even after complete preparation, things might go wrong, as in some cases they will. In such cases a facilitators should have arrangements for un-expected events which may include amongst others – long stay treatment, additional expenses, death related arrangements, etc. A medical tourism insurance policy could be helpful for traveler.
The presence of International Certification for a medical facilitator helps them to be better prepared in the field of healthcare protocols – patient protocols, pre-operative and post-operative protocols, communication protocols and legal liabilities to protect organizations; in addition to receiving continuous education on latest trends in quality management practices. Accreditation, not only helps to improve the quality of service, it also creates confidence, trust and creates credibility for facilitator in the eyes of patients.
Placing the right processes and procedures in position can reduce the likelihood of errors and troubles happening with foreign patients, and it certainly increases the chances of positive outcomes.
Every accredited facilitator is a gain for Medical Tourism Industry, and should be truly recognized as intrinsic to its growth.
Medical tourism has a tremendous scope for involving ethical, cultural, and legal issues; the understanding of which can be gained with the aid of Knowledge Management Consultancy services by well known, recognized and reputed consultants.
One of the common ethical issues raised is the fact that a medical procedure at one destination might be deemed unethical at another destination. This is deepening the already existing inequalities in the health care system.
Further, cultural differences between the countries must be understood to prevent any misinterpretations and provide services as expected by the medical tourists in their own countries.
The legal system for medical malpractice is comparatively fairly limited in non-US countries. This is one of the major reasons for the lower medical care costs overseas. Such legal issues might be unappealing to the medical tourists as they do get adequate personal insurance coverage or cannot seek compensation under malpractice lawsuits.
Even if they do, hospitals and/or doctors may not be able to pay the financial damages to a patient according to court due to their inappropriate insurance cover and/or medical indemnity. However, new insurance plans are now available that protect medical tourist if alleged medical malpractice occurs abroad.
In conclusion, a Medical Tourism Facilitator plays a vital dual role – first, in attracting medical tourists and second, in providing quality experience through medical, travel, concierge, insurance-facilitation services. Hence, medical tourism industry’s growth is largely influenced by this key player. Unfortunately, most of the Medical Tourism Facilitators mushrooming now leave more questions than answers and more problems than solutions.
I hope above points will help facilitators to establish benchmarks for improvement and raise the bar on the services so that they can provide that missing experience – Delightful Experience. As I always say – Let there be light, not just flight.
Dr. Prem Jagyasi is a Chartered Management, Healthcare Marketing and Medical Tourism Consultant. Providing high-profile consultancy services to Government Authorities and Private Healthcare organizations, he is noticeably leading medical tourism consultant. He also serves Medical Tourism Association, as an Honorary Chief Strategy Officer. He can be reached at Prem@Jagyasi.com | www.DrPrem.com | www.ExHealth.com