For several years before the coronavirus pandemic, the medical tourism industry had been largely driven by the need for affordable yet quality healthcare services. Americans traveled in droves to Thailand and Costa Rica for knee operations and cardiac surgeries they could get for less than half the price in the United States, while many patients from European countries traveled to India for their eye operations. While cost savings still remains a key factor in choosing a medical tourism destination, the rules are changing and health buyers and payers are considering more factors - and these are taking center stage in their choices.
The pandemic has triggered a paradigm shift in these determinants. Trust. This is the new differentiator in the decision process for one’s medical travel needs. International patients, like most of us, are still very concerned about the pandemic resurging and are also now very health-aware, having seen many of their loved ones and friends lose their lives to the virus.
People have this perceived risk, whether exaggerated or not, of contracting the virus abroad and are, therefore, strongly considering safety as a factor in choosing their next medical travel destination. So, the medical tourism destination with the most affordable high-quality healthcare services may not be perceived as the safest place to travel to for medical care.
Safety is the new watchword and the new metric by which health payers gauge a destination’s readiness and commitment to safeguarding patient health and safety. Although the pent-up demand for specialized care is going to drive a massive drift for seeking care abroad, health buyers and payers are doing this with some extra caution.
According to the State of Employer Healthcare & Benefits Survey 2020-2021 conducted by Global Healthcare Resources, 91 percent of respondents, who were mostly health payers, said they were more likely to choose a healthcare provider that was compliant with COVID-19 guidelines and that is accredited or certified for safety.
Prospective clients are looking out for clear policies to navigate the COVID-19 contagion in your facility, concrete strategies to mitigate the spread of the contagion, and emergency preparedness in the face of an infectious disease outbreak. Patients are doing their due diligence, researching extensively to see if these things are in place or if your destination has no clear plan to beat the contagion.
Further, with more patients health-conscious and intentional about their health, there is a growing need for a medical travel program that treats each step of the care continuum as a component of the health journey. People don’t just want to replace a broken hip or place a stent in their coronary arteries, they want to be healthier versions of themselves throughout the journey.
So they are asking: What structures have your program put in place at all stages from departure to discharge? Do your patients have to face the hassles of arranging their flights, hotel accommodations, finding their way around town, and heading to the operating table overwhelmed by this stress?
How easy is it for clients to navigate the care journey in the destination country, and how easily can they communicate their needs and desires to their health providers? What is your post-discharge process like? Are patients left on their own to stay wherever they like as they recover from the procedure? Are they left on their own to purchase their prescriptions after discharge?
Patients might have taken these things lightly pre-pandemic, but not anymore. These clients want to be able to trust that you are committed to their safety and overall wellbeing. Not just about completing a procedure with the best of surgeons but adding a touch of wellness and excellence along the care continuum.
This is where accreditation and validation come in. More health payers and buyers are looking out for third-party validation of a medical travel program’s commitment to safety, quality, and wellness services across the care continuum. Before the pandemic, many health buyers relied on hearsays, patient reviews, and website testimonials for an objective evaluation of a medical travel program; however, many have been left disappointed.
A third-party accreditation demonstrates a clear commitment to the needs of the international patient, and many health providers and medical tourism providers have realized that this has become a key tool in rejuvenating the medical tourism pandemic. These programs are now investing heavily in accreditations and certifications to remodel their processes, policies, and procedures to global best practices.
Global Healthcare Accreditation for Medical Travel is one tool that is poised to revive the medical travel industry and reposition it to be prepared and resilient in the face of potential health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. GHA for Medical Travel does not validate metrics in siloes but evaluates a medical travel program across all aspects of quality, safety, and the overall patient experience. A healthcare travel program is accredited and subsequently revalidated as long as its processes and procedures meet the strict standards set by the GHA.
This is how we sanitize the medical tourism space and this is how we build trust in medical travel programs. Patients no longer want to base their health decisions on hearsays and potentially false media hype, but on concrete evidence of standards and safety.
With trust as the backbone of medical travel decisions post-pandemic, the GHA for Medical Travel helps to reposition hospitals and ambulatory centers in the industry, setting them apart of key players. Bumrungrad International Hospital, the largest multi-specialty hospital in the whole of Southeast Asia and one of the world’s most popular medical travel hubs, is one of the medical travel providers that have invested and secured the GHA Accreditation seal to boost its brand and rebuild patient trust in the new normal.
Trust is the new metric for the new normal of medical travel. If a health buyer or payer does not entrust their overall health - mental, physical, and emotional - to your hands during the entire care continuum, they will not be scheduling that flight to your destination. It is no longer n necessarily a game of numbers - of prices and cost savings - but on a rather symbolic concept of trust. And in the context of the pandemic and all of its horrors, you earn that trust not only in saving costs for the patient but also in safeguarding their safety and overall wellbeing.