The last 19 months plunged the world into a sea of uncertainty, leaving individuals rethinking their health and lifestyle choices and businesses rethinking their systems and modi operandi. The travel industry was one of the worst hit by the pandemic, with restrictions that shut down hospitality businesses, canceled travel bookings, and kept the airports empty for months.
Medical travel suffered tremendously in the wake of the pandemic. With elective treatments and procedures suspended for months and medical resources and personnel shunted to COVID-19 wards and intensive care units, eager medical tourists who desired elective or complex surgical procedures and diagnostics had to wait in uncertainty for months. Now that vaccines and treatments are available in many parts of the world, COVID-19 numbers have declined considerably in the last few months, and things are slowly returning to normal, but only now, to a new normal.
For the medical travel industry, new patient needs will drive the new normal. International patients now have different expectations for medical providers and medical travel programs. The last one-and-a-half years have forced many individuals to reexamine their health and lifestyle choices, and this shift will influence medical travel decisions in the post-COVID-19 era. Here are the top three pull factors that will drive medical tourism success in the new normal:
Following the intense fear and health anxiety that came with the pandemic, people are now more conscious of their health and are taking necessary steps to mitigate exposure to COVID-19. Consequently, your medical travel program will rank low to international health buyers if it does not demonstrate the capacity to mitigate COVID-19 transmission throughout their medical travel journey—regardless of the quality of healthcare services you offer.
Global Healthcare Accreditation offers a Certification of Conformance with GHA COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs, which demonstrates to your international patients, potential clients, insurers, and other key stakeholders that you prioritize their safety and health across the patient journey. The Certification demonstrates to stakeholders that your program’s operational protocols, practices, and procedures have undergone an external review, and reflect international best practices designed to keep traveling patients safe as operations resume during or post COVID-19.
The certification does not focus on mitigation efforts during admission and treatment alone but the entire medical travel continuum, including pre-arrival, travel, hotel accommodations, discharge, and departure. This boosts trust and confidence with health buyers and insurers seeking healthcare procedures at international destinations.
The certification also educates and trains medical travel program staff on work protocols, processes, and systems needed to facilitate patient safety and mitigate COVID-19 transmission throughout the continuum of care. Further, the guidelines help medical travel programs to effectively communicate these protocols with prospective patients to facilitate transparency and build patient confidence.
Accreditation and Quality of Care
As patients become more health-conscious and intentional about their healthcare decisions, one determinant that will set a medical travel program apart and make it more attractive is quality of service. There is no better way to demonstrate the quality of your medical travel program than through a third-party appraisal and approval.
Increasingly, patients are not only basing medical travel decisions on hearsays and anecdotes, but also on demonstrable and vetted standards of practice that align with industry norms and best practices.
The accreditation process helps streamline operations, improve the quality of care, and build trust with patients and the community. When patients see that your organization is accredited or certified, they know that you have voluntarily undergone the process of meeting rigorous standards.
Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) offers accreditation for hospitals and ambulatory centers that meet the healthcare needs of international patients. GHA evaluates your medical travel program against international standards and professional benchmarks designed in consultation with leading global experts, including medical providers and insurers. GHA accreditation focuses on three main competencies: patient experience, sustainable business practices, and patient-focused clinical processes, helping your medical travel program implement strategies in these areas.
Ultimately, this accreditation process helps to enhance patient experience across the medical travel care continuum and build trust with international patients and health buyers. Further, GHA accreditation gives you access to a network of other GHA-accredited facilities globally to open up opportunities for collaboration and sharing best practices. GHA Accreditation also enhances your medical travel brand visibility, allowing more patients and health payers to connect with your program.
GHA’s standards are accredited by the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua), through its accrediting arm, the International Society for Quality in Health Care External Evaluation Association (IEEE). ISQua is widely recognized as the “accreditor of accreditors” and the reference point for international healthcare accrediting bodies seeking external validation of their standards.
Excellent Patient Experience
The pandemic has been one of the most stressful times for almost everyone, and as things begin to ease around the world, one key determinant of patient travel decisions in this era is a sublime, relaxing experience. Medical travel hubs could integrate this metric into their programs by being committed to a superb medical travel patient experience. Patients look out for medical travel destinations that implement best practices in offering a wholesome experience throughout the care continuum.
A key element of providing an excellent care experience for international patients is establishing an international patient department that coordinates the care continuum for medical travelers. This department offers effective pre-arrival communication, travel logistics, including transportation, accommodation, and recreation, and trains staff in communicating with and caring for international patients. Patients have already been stressed by the health crisis, and dealing with difficulties and bottlenecks in assessing medical care abroad is the last thing medical travelers want.
GHA offers Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience to demonstrate a medical program’s commitment to delivering an outstanding patient experience. The certification demonstrates to international patients and prospective health buyers that your facility has a robust medical travel program that prioritizes not just the healthcare delivery but the overall comfort and satisfaction of your international clients.
In August of 2020, GHA began offering clients a robust virtual accreditation/certification survey option due to the pandemic. The virtual accreditation/certification process is designed to facilitate seamless communication, observation, and data sharing capabilities to maximize surveyor-client interactions and ultimately provide organizations with a comparable level of value as would be provided in an onsite survey.
This certification is ideally suited for healthcare providers that do not have a national or international clinical accreditation but would like to strengthen their medical travel program to comply with best practices in patient experience for the medical traveler. The certification trains and evaluates a healthcare provider in three core areas: pre-arrival communication and education, care and treatment experiences, and post-treatment care. This certification, therefore, expands your brand visibility to attract more international patients and payers and validate the quality and performance of your medical travel program.
The needs and expectations of the international patient have been altered by the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, your medical travel programs must be well adapted to meet these needs to achieve success in the new normal. Medical travel hubs that prioritize patient safety, COVID-19 containment and pandemic preparedness strategies, high quality of care validated by an external party, and an excellent patient care journey will be in a better position to succeed in the medical tourism space for years to come.