It is amazing how fast the medical tourism industry has been growing in the past few years. Over five years ago it was rarely mentioned in the media and press, and my recollection was that it was mentioned in the international press in an article in the International Herald Tribune. My name and former employer was mentioned with Bumrungrad Hospital.
Today, medical tourism is constantly in the media and press and there is not one day that multiple newspapers and other forms of media write articles about it.
Today medical tourism is featured in thousands of TV, newspaper and magazine articles around the world and over 40 countries are racing to position themselves as one of the leading destinations for patients and their companions for travel.
Many of these countries are looking to tap into the billions of dollars these patients and their companions spend each year through medical tourism. Despite this amazing growth in the industry, what is more amazing is the number of mistakes many key players in the medical tourism industry are making.
The biggest mistake many organizations interested or involved in medical tourism are making is missing out on “Face Time.” “Face Time,” simply means the “in person” time you spend with a possible business partner face to face. While the internet and telephone play a critical role in business today, nothing can replace the power of “face time” and a personal face to face business meeting.
Cheapest is not Necessarily the Best Choice
With gadgets or widgets, you know exactly what you want – the specifications, quality and pricing – and you can order it. With gadgets and widgets, you are looking for the best quality at the cheapest price, and it really doesn’t matter who you buy it from. Today most people buy their gadgets and widgets online through an online shopping cart and never once talk to any live person or ever meet them. There is simply no need.
Dealing with patients and medical care, is different then selling gadgets or widgets. When you are trying to develop relationships with insurance companies, employers and medical tourism facilitators “face time” is an absolute requirement. The business world, especially in the area of medical care is built on personal relationships, and networking.
So why are the majority of hospitals, clinics, doctors, medical tourism facilitators, and insurance companies treating medical and dental care and patients and their companions as if they are a widget or gadget?
What’s more, some hospitals treat medical tourism as a widget or gadget, and do it so impersonally, simply sending emails to people about how beautiful their hospital or clinic is and that they should send patients, and then these same hospitals or clinics wonder why they are not receiving any patients or why they are not growing their business?
In person networking is an absolute requirement. Many people in the industry just don’t understand this business model and don’t understand how to grow their business. They think they are just selling a commodity and the lowest price may win out.
The Insurance Model
To give a specific example, when you are dealing with the US insurance industry, such as a health insurance carrier, health insurance agent or consultant or employer, the person who has the “personal relationship” will win out the majority of the time. Employers and health insurance agents want to work with someone they trust and have confidence in and feel they can do business with on a long term basis.
Many of the hospitals that are successful today and growing their business models are ones that have built a personal relationship with the medical tourism facilitators who are sending them patients. The Medical Tourism Facilitators in return are working with those hospitals they feel they have a personal relationship with and that they can trust and can work with for the long term. Face Time is the ultimate branding tool.
In the United States for example, Hospitals and clinics that are always visible and attend the big conferences and events are seen as the major players in the industry. This is simply how US healthcare conferences work. The big players are the exhibitors and sponsors and speakers at US healthcare conferences.
Employers and insurance agents like working with these organizations because since they are in the “limelight” they must be the leaders of the industry, and they clearly want the employer and insurance agents business and are going to work for it. Face time is also important in making sure you don’t lose your country or hospital positioning and the branding you have built up over the past few years. India is a perfect example.
Years ago people used to talk about India being the top destination for medical tourism, and this was based on the fact that India had some of the least expensive pricing in the world for quality surgery and so from the US they were receiving a majority of the US patients who had no health insurance.
This tactic may work with patients who have no health insurance and want the cheapest prices, but as US health insurance carriers and employers implement medical tourism, the cheapest price is not necessarily the first choice. The cost savings is so large, that the employer or insurer is fine rather than receiving a 90% savings to receive a 60% or 50% savings, as long as they save money.
For these employers and insurance companies making sure the patient has the best patient experience is the absolute most important thing to them. They need to have 100% of the patients having great outcomes and giving rave reviews of their medical tourism experience 100% of the time. This means they want to work with hospitals and clinics that are going to give the employer or insurance company a top personalized level of customer service.
One of the only ways of convincing the insurance company or employer is by meeting them in person and convincing them of this. But things have changed. Many of the Indian hospitals have no marketing budget and have not been marketing themselves to the US health insurance marketplace, or if they have, pretty ineffectively. Other countries in Asia, like Korea for example, have made a big marketing push into the US as well as some Latin American countries.
Now in the US health insurance marketplace people are talking about Mexico, Costa Rica, Korea and other countries, and you don’t hear them talking as much about India anymore. Presence and face time can help you keep your brand reputation and your clients. The one key to growing your business is always, networking, networking, networking.
As we approach this years 2nd World Medical Tourism & Global Health Congress with up 2,000 attendees and up to 5,000 pre-scheduled private one on one networking meetings, in October this year in Los Angeles, the reason for attending should be clear. The comment, “What can I accomplish there that I can’t over the phone or by email,” simply is shortsighted.
The answer to that is simple – obtaining new clients and customers, developing relationships and even more importantly, maintaining your positioning against the competition. Are you a serious player in this industry or just an observer? This opportunity has fell into your lap, now do something with it.
Jonathan Edelheit is CEO of the Medical Tourism Association with a long history in the healthcare industry, providing third partyadministration services for fully insured, self-funded and mini-medicalplans to large employers groups.