Patient experience is one of the key determinants of a successful medical travel program and a dominant metric in the industry. Patient experience cuts across all aspects of the care journey and does not rest solely on the treatment phase.
The Patient Experience can be defined as: The perception that patients/prospects have of their interactions (directly or indirectly) with your organization (staff, services, systems and ancillary service providers). The patient experience is made up of hundreds of interactions, and in the context of medical travel, many will be happening outside your clinic or hospital environment.
Patients and health consumers are becoming more self-aware and more conscious of what quality healthcare delivery means. As a result, patients expect a certain level of quality along the care continuum that border on safety, transparency, swift and seamless communications, risk mitigation, and quality of care. If patients perceive a lack of commitment to these expectations, they might consider other destinations or providers to meet their needs.
In response to this, many healthcare providers are repositioning their programs and offerings to prioritize customer expectations and deliver a wholesome patient experience across all phases of the care journey. Below are three key steps to achieving these.
1. Understand who are your medical travel patients
The first step to meeting your patient’s needs and expectations is understanding who they are and what their cultural contexts are. Clarity about your target patient population helps you understand what their unique needs are and what they regard as culturally appropriate or inappropriate and also helps you identify culturally driven patient behavior that influence treatment compliance and overall patient outcomes.
What are their unique needs and expectations? The needs and expectations of patients coming from North Africa will likely be different from patients traveling from Germany or the US. What patient populations you are targeting will impact what information is included on our website, what services will be offered and even hiring and training of staff. You must develop a clear understanding of who your medical travel patients are so you can craft a marketing message that is compelling and addresses your target markets’ concerns, needs and desires.
It also helps to narrow down to the unique medical circumstances of each patient to determine what would be required to optimize their care outcomes. For instance, if your patients are largely elderly, potentially immunocompromised patients needing complex orthopedic or oncology treatments, they may need much stronger infection control policies and immune-protection strategies than immunocompetent patients and more thorough geriatric involvement in their care.
2. Build a Pathway that Meets Their Unique Needs and Expectations
To deliver a great patient experience –you need to be proactive and intentional. Once you are crystal clear on who your patients are, you must then design a pathway that eliminates barriers that negatively impact the medical travel patient experience, such as distance, travel, culture and language barriers.
How do you incorporate a patient’s cultural contexts into their treatment plan? Is there a language line or translator that helps patients understand their condition and treatment plan or are these details lost to language discordance? What risk mitigation strategies are in place, such as infection control protocol, disease surveillance, and complication-reduction methods.
Many patients will require assistance with travel logistics. This may include flights, accommodations and ground transportation. Have you visited the hotels you recommend to ensure they meet the needs of your medical travel patient populations? This applies to services and amenities as well as budget. For example, a patient coming for dental treatment will have different needs from a patient having a hip replacement.
Also, nutrition, for instance, is a key factor that influences recovery post-surgery. The right nutrition lowers the risk of wound complications and aids healing of surgical wounds. If you are providing the same food plan for all patients, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, you may observe that some patients may develop poorer outcomes than others because of an inappropriate feeding plan.
Instead of more western diet, you may adopt halal alternatives for patients from Northern Africa and the Gulf Countries to improve feeding and nutrient uptake. Instead of providing the same set of drugs for all patients, it may be worth considering which drugs are halal or which drugs or treatments are culturally inappropriate, such as blood transfusion for some religious sects and find viable alternatives.
3. Monitor and Track Patient Experience Metrics
Patient experience is a continuum and does not end with one patient travel journey. Always focus on continually improving your processes. Segment medical travelers from local patient population to gain unique insights into opportunities for improvement. Use patient satisfaction surveys that cover the entire medical travel care continuum, not just the services provided in the hospital or clinic.
Routinely conduct audits and quality improvement projects to assess various touchpoints of the patient care journey and how they influence patients’ overall outcomes. Are patients happy with the level of communication with providers or do they wish to have interactions rid of excessive medical jargon? Is not understanding culturally appropriate interactions and non-verbal cues keeping patients from opening up about their medical concerns or availing providers with more information that could aid the diagnostic and treatment processes?
A crucial part of this assessment is staff training. Staff – both clinical and non-clinical – must be trained on how to identify patient’s unique needs and address them effectively. From verbal and non-verbal communication to understanding how their sociocultural backgrounds affect their health, there are many nuances that come into play in a patient’s healthcare journey that healthcare providers need to be aware of.
Benefits of a great patient experience in medical travel
Excellent patient experience has many benefits to healthcare consumers and providers, as is an integral factor that drives growth for a medical travel program. Some of these benefits include:
Better clinical outcomes
Improved patient experience breeds trust in the healthcare process. Patients feel more included are better engaged with their treatment plan, thus, more likely to express their concerns, receive quicker answers, and comply with treatment strategies. Building better patient experience also means that a medical travel program is committed to global best practices, which ensure safety and quality of care.
Ultimately, these strategies lead to a more efficient healthcare process, with shorter hospital stays, reduced re-admissions, improved treatment adherence, lowered medical risks, and a happier and more satisfied patient.
When patients are satisfied with their care process, they are likely to recommend other patients needing similar or related treatments or procedures. According to a study published in Accenture in 2016, a superior customer experience correlates to 50 percent higher hospital margins as it drives in more health payers.
Further, a study published by Deloitte in 2014 found that hospitals with “excellent” HCAHPS patient ratings between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with “low” ratings. Data from the study also showed that hospitals with better patient ratings earn disproportionately more revenue per patient day than those with low ratings.
Patient experience directly correlates with your brand visibility and public confidence. Patients are more likely to recommend a medical travel program to others and are more likely to leave positive reviews, which other health payers and even medical travel providers can see and become more aware of.
With improved visibility comes more patient flow and more opportunities to form strategic partnerships with other businesses and healthcare organizations. This opens the door to greater business opportunities and an increased market value for your brand.
Building Patient Experience with Global Healthcare Accreditation
Patient experience is essential for every point of the care continuum, from departure to discharge; patients want a seamless medical journey as well as quality medical treatment and a relaxing post-treatment recovery period. Meeting patients at these touch points is a key to unlocking success in the medical tourism industry.
Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), the leading authority in accreditation and driving optimal results in medical travel, has a team of global experts and healthcare leaders to redirect organizations and businesses to meet patients’ needs effectively. GHA has developed standards and resources to support medical tourism programs in aligning their practices, policies, and procedures to meet global best practices in patient experience.
In addition to building trust in the industry through accreditation and certifications that help organizations adopt global best practices of safety and quality healthcare delivery, GHA also provides gap assessment services to help organizations implement effective marketing tools and models to boost brand visibility and improve the patient experience.
To learn more about GHA, click here.