The Calm after the Storm: The Future of Medical Tourism Post-Pandemic


The Future of Medical Tourism, arguably the most successful and well-attended webinar organized by the Medical Tourism Association, with over 600 registered industry stakeholders from across the globe, featured insightful takes and discussions about the future of medical travel, the paradigm shifts disrupting the industry, and the challenges that lie ahead.  

The webinar featured global experts and medical travel leaders, including Dr. Heitham Hassoun, Professor of Surgery and Vice President & Medical Director for International at Cedars Sinai Hospital, Dr. Korpong Rookkapan, Chief Administrative Officer for Strategy and Quality at Bumrungrad Hospital, and Dr. Ariel Ortiz, CEO and Founder of the Obesity Control Center and President of the Mexican Board of Health Tourism.  

The experts touched on critical aspects of the industry, including the key drivers of medical travel in the post-pandemic era, medical tourism facilitation, patient experience, and leveraging partnerships to rethink medical travel offerings.  

A shift in demand for healthcare and changing patient expectations

One striking trend in medical travel since the pandemic eased is the surge in the demand for outbound care. Many international patient units are experiencing record high numbers in medical requests and international patients due to pent-up demand for healthcare. Dr. Heitham Hassoun noted a similar trend in medical travel, citing a spike in inbound medical travel from patients in the Middle East for not only pent-up demand for complex and quaternary medical issues but also their wellness needs.

Dr. Korpong Rookkapan, representing, one of the largest international hospitals in Southeast Asia, also noted the increased demand for healthcare in the Bangkok hospital, especially from the Middle East and India, as health consumers and payers seek centers of excellence that can meet their pent-up demands.  

Dr. Rookkapan further noted the pandemic has completely disrupted the processes and procedures for medical travel into Thailand. Stakeholders are now beaming more light on safety and infection control. With the public anxieties that pervaded the globe when coronavirus hit, there have been more concerns about potential and emerging infectious diseases, and Thailand has enhanced its medical surveillance systems, which include improved infectious disease monitoring, a thorough screening of inbound travelers, and improved research on emerging infectious diseases.

Likewise, Dr. Ortiz noted that the influx of patients seeking weight loss surgery at the Obesity Control center doubled after the pandemic. This may be connected to the prolonged inactivity and poor nutrition that came with the pandemic-induced sit-at-home orders and movement restrictions in many countries.

Leveraging Partnerships

But as the prevalence of chronic disease rises and the demand for healthcare across the globe continues to spike, medical tourism programs need to refine their strategies and build capacity to meet these demands. One of the primary ways providers and programs can achieve this is by establishing strong networks and building great partnerships, as Dr. Hassoun noted.

Dr. Hassoun talked about compartmentalizing relationships in building a medical tourism brand. He said that the payer, provider, and patient relationships are the anchors of capacity building in the industry, and focusing on all three, and not just one or two, will yield increased market growth and expansion metrics.  

Essentially, building effective payer relationships involves networking with the right health payers, building the right business models, and leveraging employer health plans to expand the market and improve patient flow, while building provider relationships involve networking with centers of excellence for education, consulting services, expertise, and resources.  

Alluding to this, Dr. Ariel mentioned collaborative efforts by the Obesity Control Center to expand its services and market base. He noted that the Obesity Control Center recently partnered with the University of California, San Diego, to expand consulting services and educational resources to meet the rising global need for care.  

Patient Experience

The third component of capacity building, according to Dr. Hassoun, patient relationships, play a central role in the success of a medical travel brand, influencing client retention and patient referrals. If a program has the best network of medical expertise but scores low in patient experience, patients are unlikely to return or recommend the program to other medical travelers.  

“Going to your past patients and ensuring the continuity or life-cycle of care is crucial; you don’t just do the transactional approach, you’ve got to see them as people or family members. If you do that, it positions you to expand your market base in that particular region,” Dr. Hassoun said.

Bill Cook, Director of Business Development and Marketing for Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) also noted how critical patient experience is to the growth of a medical tourism brand. Patients now are concerned about their safety, the infection control measures in place, and the ease of accessing care along all touchpoints of the care journey. With patient expectations and desires shifting significantly since the pandemic, medical travel programs need to adjust their processes and procedures to streamline the patient experience.  

“There was a recent healthcare report on patient experience, which noted that patients now want better provider interactions; they were wishing their patient care experiences were more like shopping on Amazon or Netflix, a type of customer service or experience that drives positive emotions.” Bill said

Medical travel programs also need to understand the granular aspect of the patient care experience, including appropriate communication channels, culturally competent services, and the indirect aspects of the care journey, such as hospitality and post-discharge recovery wellness needs. These are essential components of the patient care experience, and regardless of the quality of medical services offered, not understanding and succeeding in these touchpoints could mar the entire experience.  

Global Healthcare Accreditation

Global Healthcare Accreditation is needed now more than ever as it continues to support medical travel programs in these changing times to serve the needs of traveling patients more effectively. With the GHA Accreditation for Medical Travel as well as certification programs for medical travel facilitators, GHA is raising the bar of quality in the industry, rebuilding patient trust and confidence, and ensuring health payers receive top value for their money.  

“One of the things that we’ve known for a long time is that patient comes number one and it should be for anyone caring for a patient. One of the things that make it transparent and objective is to have a third party give you that designation of quality and safety versus the self-promotion that occurs very frequently in our industry, Dr. Ortiz said.  

“For us, accreditation was the only way we could demonstrate to the patient that we were meeting the global standards of quality and safety; we had one accreditation but when we heard about GHA being more inclusive of all requirements in treating an international patient, we decided to pursue the GHA accreditation,” he added.  

“Accreditation is the beginning point of transparency and measurement, and in building patient trust, you need to build along certain standards and compare those standards with best practices,” Dr. Hassoun noted.  

“We underwent GHA accreditation during the pandemic to be better prepared for today. GHA’s focus on patient experience across the care continuum - during pre-arrival, treatment and post treatment, has provided significant value to our program and supported the strong come-back we have achieved since the pandemic.” Dr. Rookkapan said. “I am also happy to inform that VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center, our sister organization focused on wellness services, recently achieved GHA’s Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience, underscoring our commitment to ensuring a high-quality patient experience,” he added.

Medical Tourism is shifting paradigms; new patient expectations, pent-up demands, and a greater need for top-notch care is driving an evolution in medical travel. With Global Healthcare Accreditation, many medical travel programs are repositoning themselves to meet these needs and emerge as top medical travel destinations for international patients and offer the best possible healthcare available at affordable prices.  

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