Marketing & Business Development

Mistakes that Limit Marketing Success for Medical Tourism Programs

Marketing & Business Development

Medical tourism is driven by several factors, including competitive pricing, top-quality healthcare services, and destination attractiveness; however, even with these elements, medical tourism destinations may fail to achieve their target patient volume as a result of certain marketing mistakes.  

In a recent webinar  by the Medical Tourism Association, President of the Association and co-Founder of Global Healthcare Resources, Jonathan Edelheit, leads a discussion with Bill Cook, Director of Business Development and Marketing, Global Healthcare Accreditation, sharing insights about marketing pitfalls that limit success for medical tourism programs. Jonathan and Bill highlighted five common mistakes that limit medical travel marketing success.

1. Poor Communication

In the new normal of medical travel, trust is a crucial ingredient for success. Poor communication between medical tourism providers and international patients is a sure way to lose clients to competitors. Patients want to have a seamless experience in their care journey and not have the medical trip cause more stress than the illnesses for which they need treatment.  

Jonathan Edelheit shared a personal experience about a family member seeking medical treatment abroad and how poor communication marred the patient experience.  

“When I go on my trip, I usually have everything scheduled and structured, but during this trip  the medical tourism program failed to provide needed information at different points of the care journey-which negatively impacted our experience,” Jonathan said. “Further, we ended up with an extra payment for another service, which was not initially communicated to us” he added.  

When international patient departments interact with health buyers, information should be clear and transparent. Patients should know what services are covered in the package, accommodation conditions and availability, transport logistics, post-discharge recovery logistics, and medical data sharing with local health providers. Clear communication builds patient confidence and promotes a seamless care journey for health buyers.


2. Target Audience Not Clearly defined

“What’s important is to know your customer” Jonathan said, emphasizing the importance of clearly identifying your target patient populations before creating appropriate marketing tools to reach them.

A shotgun marketing approach often limits the success and growth of a medical travel program as it attempts to use the same or a similar message forall patient populations in different regions, which often brings poor results. If a medical travel program does not define its target patient population(s) and, in turn, develop messaging that aligns with their needs, health buyers are unlikely to pay them any attention.  

For instance, if patients needing fertility services after trying several years to conceive come across a medical tourism program that promises “exceptional medical care” with little or no information about fertility procedures it offers, success rates for fertility treatment cycles, and reviews from couples who have accessed fertility care in the facility, they may look somewhere else for their fertility solutions.  

Defining target markets helps international patient departments curate population-specific marketing tools, which could easily drive buy-ins and patient influx. With defined targets also comes targeted investment in a medical tourism program’s area of specialization or focus.  

3. Poor value proposition

“In your interactions with medical tourists, what else do you offer apart from lower prices?” Bill asks as he discussed the importance of developing or identifying a compelling value proposition. “Why should a patient from another country come to use your services instead of going somewhere else?” he added.

The medical tourism industry has become more competitive in the last few years as patient needs and expectations have heightened. Patients are more likely to choose medical travel programs that prioritize safety, wellness, and an excellent patient experience as well as those whose practices and procedures are in line with global best practices.  

What measures are in place to safeguard patients’ health and safety? What are the unique services a program has to boost post-treatment recovery? Do patients have to worry about their travel logistics or do they have to plan their accommodation and post-discharge care? What happens when the patient comes back home; can they be followed up by a network of local doctors or do patients have to hassle their own follow-ups themselves? Is there a third-party validation or accreditation of your program’s services? Are your treatment services at par with global quality standards and indicators?

These key areas set outstanding medical tourism programs apart from others and demonstrate to medical tourists and health payers your commitment to quality and excellent patient experience. It is important to ensure your value proposition is aligned with the needs and expectations of your target patient populations.

4. A Website that is not User Friendly

Oftentimes, patients’ first point of interaction with a medical travel program is the website. Patients may visit multiple websites in search of information and solutions for their healthcare needs. Consequently, international patient departments need to ensure their websites are user friendly and provide the information patients are looking for. What type of information is available on your website? If your program focuses on orthopedic procedures, does your website provide information detailed information about the procedures and expected length of stay? Does the website contain information about the surgeons, as well as their success rates, and complication rates?

Alluding to this, Jonathan gave an example of a medical tourism program that did not have information about the number of procedures a doctor does, potentially limiting patient trust and buy-in.  

“If a doctor in a medical tourism destination has performed 500 successful procedures, it may be a good stimulus when compared to a patient’s local provider who has done far fewer” Jonathan said.  

Additionally, is the information easy to access? Is navigation consistent? The website is an effective marketing component that international patient departments can leverage to boost their visibility and brand. Provide generous amount of information to prospective clients about the services offered, success rates, the qualifications and experience of doctors in the facility, and reviews from previous patients.  

“These data help prospective health payers make quick, and informed decisions about using your services,” Bill added.


5. Not Adapting Communication Channels to Patient Preferences

A common mistake among medical tourism organizations is using the same communication channels for all patient populations. This can negatively impact how well you reach your target patient populations. If a medical tourism hub focuses on an older patient demographic, communicating via social media platforms, such as Instagram or even mobile applications may not be as effective as telephone conversations, posts, or emails.  

Similarly, programs that focus on advanced cosmetic procedures can effectively communicate with clients via mobile applications and social media platforms.  

Understanding the context of the client helps to determine which communication medium may work best. It also helps to routinely assess these models through surveys and feedback systems to help patient departments hear directly from clients about their most preferred communication choices.  

Optimizing communication channels also involves ensuring appropriate security structures are in place. Patients value their privacy and do not wish to have their health data accessible by anyone, especially unauthorized personnel. Health data must be secured in compliance with local and global data security practices to maintain patient trust and data confidentiality.

Rethinking Medical Travel Marketing with Global Healthcare Accreditation

For organizations looking to improve their marketing to medical travelers, GHA offers a wide range of solutions including gap assessment, training, accreditation and certification.  GHA offers programs training sessions with global leaders in medical tourism, and strategic partnerships with global players in the industry. Organization leaders and international patient departments have the opportunity to learn, re-learn, and unlearn marketing strategies to gain a competitive edge in the medical tourism market.  

Marketing is a crucial component of business growth, and if not implemented correctly, could mar organizational success. Medical tourism programs need to pay attention to the nuances of the medical travel market, and implement strategies to attract their target populations and drive more buy-ins.

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