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Strategies for Long-term Success in Medical Tourism

Marketing & Business Development

More than two years after the shocking halt in medical travel during the pandemic, medical tourism businesses are slowly recovering, curating new strategies to bolster their offerings and increase their stake in the industry. While some programs are still finding it challenging to get back on their feet, some medical travel businesses are leveraging critical strategies to attract more foreign patients.

Jonathan Edelheit, Chairman and Co-founder of Global Healthcare Resources and President of the Medical Tourism Association sits with Bill Cook, Director of Business Development and Marketing of Global Healthcare Accreditation in an exciting webinar to discuss the core strategies necessary for long-term success for any medical travel program.

The webinar, tagged “Medical Tourism: Quick Wins or Long-term Success” demystifies the tools of the trade and what medical tourism programs must do to get ahead in the industry. Here are five key steps medical travel programs should adopt to remodel their business for long-term success.

1. Have a clear strategy and plan

As with any business, success largely depends on the structures in place to achieve results. Setting up these structures requires a clear, well-thought-out plan for growth and sustainability.

“This may seem like an obvious first step, but many medical travel organizations  do not have a clear strategy. For some organizations it appears to be more of an afterthought—’we'll add some new services,  transfer staff from sour marketing department to manage medical travel patients and all will be fine.’ Unfortunately, this is not sustainable,” Bill said.

Building the structure for success in the industry requires understanding the landscape of medical tourism, the players, the drivers, the patient needs, and the market factors. These factors are essential data on which a medical tourism program designs its model to ensure patient experience and standards of care are not compromised along the care continuum.

Bill also noted that healthcare systems need to answer an important question before setting up a medical travel program: “Does it align with your mission and vision?”

If a medical tourism offering does not align with a healthcare system’s mission or goals, it may not be worth it to invest in a project that is unlikely to be sustainable. If a healthcare organization’s goal and resources are focused on population health management and

preventive care for domestic patients, it may not be a good fit for medical tourists, who often seek solutions for complex medical and surgical needs.

2. Have a Target audience

“Some people say I am going to go after the whole world, and they do not know who their target patient population is, and then change their target population every so often as each model fails,” Jonathan said.

When patients from abroad reach out to a hospital for medical inquiry, they seek a targeted solution. They are either calling to seek solutions to a complex cardiac problem or to seek better cancer treatment results. A medical tourism program that seeks to meet all healthcare needs will end up meeting none.

Medical tourism programs need to center their resources and expertise on a limited specialty to drive an influx of patients who need those services. Channeling resources to every specialty limits the chances of success as each specialty may not be sufficiently equipped to offer complex procedures sought by medical tourists.

This is essentially why centers of excellence thrive and are big players in the medical tourism industry. These organizations focus on offering treatment and diagnostic services in a limited area or specialty, such as organ transplants, orthopedic surgery, or cardiology, ensuring that most resources are channeled to offering the best treatments available in the specialty or for a certain patient population.

3. Staff Training

“The circumstances of a medical travel patient are different from those of a domestic patient,” Bill asserts, emphasizing that a medical tourism program caters to the needs of a different population, so requires enhanced training for staff.

A medical travel program opens a healthcare organization’s doors to patients from any part of the world, including China, India, Canada, and middle east, hence patient expectations vary and the most appropriate approach to each of these patients also differs. Therefore, hospital managers and staff need to know that a medical tourist is not just walking in from across the street or a neighboring town, but another country miles away, where the culture, expectation, and acceptable standard of healthcare may be different.

Staff training should begin from the first point of contact with prospective clients: what information should be shared? How smooth is communication with clients? How do clients want to be reached about their questions? Is there anyone who speaks the same language as the patient or will both parties be struggling throughout a conversation? Are patient advocates trained and available to support patients and companions throughout their stay? Are there medical travel programs (international patient departments) to take care of patients’ travel logistics, including those of patients’ companions?

These aspects of the care journey require specialized and periodic training for staff to ensure they understand the unique needs and expectations of medical travel patients. Establishing an international patient department with experts in the medical travel industry is, therefore, critical to ensuring staff can access the right tools and resources to learn, unlearn, and re-learn the nuances of the industry.

4. System to Manage Medical Travel Patients

During the conversation, Jonathan shared a bad experience with medical tourism programs, where a family member had to travel abroad for some medical procedures. He noted that communication was a major issue, as the patient was kept in the dark about the care flow and continuum.

Patient experience is the new determinant for success in medical tourism, and patient experience is a spectrum that is beyond the quality of medical treatment they receive. The hotel and transportation logistics, the food, interactions with staff, and the overall ambiance are integral aspects of the patient experience, and if these fall short of patient expectations, they are unlikely to return or refer someone for a procedure in your facility.

‘One thing I’ve realized is that people do not put themselves in the shoes of the international patients; they go through the design process without integrating patient demands and expectations,” Jonathan said.

A structure to manage medical travel patients also involve systems to re-evaluate the process and check for areas that may mar the patient care journey. These metrics, such as communication and education, cultural competence, quality of care, patient referrals, and patient satisfaction are indicators of the patient experience and are key measures that healthcare organizations need to monitor frequently to ensure they align with global best practices.

5. Accreditation and Certification

Accreditation is one of the key indicators of standards in medical tourism. In the post-pandemic era of medical tourism where safety and uncertainty hold sway, accreditation demonstrates your commitment to quality, patient safety, and an excellent patient experience.

Before the pandemic, patients and health payers mostly relied on anecdotes, online reviews, or information on a health organization’s website to make decisions about their medical trips. In the new normal, they rely on third-party validations and evaluations. Accreditation boosts patient trust and confidence in a medical travel program’s commitment and readiness to meet patients’ needs.

Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) offers the requisite tools and resources for medical travel programs to deliver   an outstanding patient experience in all stages of the care continuum. It also offers medical travel programs the resources, tools, and strategic partnerships they need to enhance their business operations and performance of their program. The seal and accreditation demonstrate to clients and patients that the program meets global standards of care and checks all the boxes to offer quality care across the care continuum.

Medical Tourism: Quick Wins or Long-term Gains?

The medical tourism industry is beginning to set a new path of recovery since the pandemic ceased. The major players are re-strategizing and previously small players are emerging as key stakeholders in the industry. In this webinar, Bill Cook and Jonathan Edelheit discuss the principles of success in the industry and strategies that are pivotal to long-term success.

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