Over the past several years, the medical tourism industry has established a firm hold in international and U.S. markets. Now it’s up to key players in the industry to streamline, expand and leverage the medical tourism process. And in so doing, add value to a medical traveler’s experience from start to finish.
At this year’s World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress, Jorge Franz, Ted Cromwell, Bruce Fairchild and Dan Cormany discussed their approach to the betterment of the industry through the collaboration of medical tourism facilities with travel and tourism entities.
“We’re marrying two of the largest industries in the world – medicine and tourism,” said Cormany, a doctoral candidate of medical tourism studies and a regular contributor to Medical Tourism Magazine, who moderated the session.
The benefits of such a union are numerous, according to the speakers, and create support for the travel, medical and tourism industries, not to mention the improved overall experience created for the patient.
“Obviously Houston having the largest medical center in the world is very interested in attracting patients from all around the world,” said Franz, Vice President of Tourism and International Group Sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The truth is the medical packages are amazing, but you don’t necessarily know what else Houston has to offer.”
By working alongside convention and visitors bureaus, also known as tourism offices, medical institutions can ensure a quality patient experience, as well as help support their community. The budget for visitors bureaus is usually generated from hotel taxes, Franz said. Therefore, the more tourists a bureau can bring to a city, the more funding they earn for further promotion.
“We market a given area and our primary focus is to attract major conventions, meetings and events to the city. We work with third-party vendors to help put ‘heads in beds.’ We create collateral to promote that area,” Franz said.
This cooperation between industries is not an entirely novel concept. Regional Director of Operations for Sunstone Hotel Properties, Bruce Fairchild, manages five hotels in Rochester, Minn., all of which are directly connected with medical facilities in the geographical area.
“Early on, the community recognized [patients] don’t just come for a hospital. What brings them back is what the whole experience is, which is really where we focus,” Fairchild said.
The Kahler Grand Hotel is outfitted to meet patient needs without the sterile setting of a hospital. For example, some bathrooms are equipped with a marble half-wall next to the latrine, rather than a steel grab-bar. Fairchild described the hotel’s kitchen as being able to serve anything from a medical and cultural dietary standpoint, and a shuttle service between the hotel and health club was recently added.
“We formed partnerships with the convention and visitor bureau so that the experience for patients is good 100 percent of the time,” Fairchild said. “We measured how long the patient is at the clinic and in the community, and guess where they’re spending most of their time – in the community.”
To better suit the surrounding community to patients, several streets were closed to create a more “pedestrian friendly” atmosphere. Service training is also completed throughout the community, so business and service professionals can be “cognizant of what these patients are going through,” Fairchild added.
“We work really hard to greet them when their flight lands,” Fairchild said. “If they need an interpreter, we’ll have them there and we’ll even wheel them to their first appointment.”
Travel companies and airlines also have an opportunity to take part. Levent Bas, the president of Turkish Healthcare Tourism Development Council, explained in a separate session how Turkey has incorporated their airline into the medical tourism industry.
“We are a good example of how airlines can support medical tourism. Recently [our airline] has made a campaign for medical tourism and made a 25 percent discount for medical tourists who want to come to Turkey,” he said. “They also decided to make this discount for the attendant of the medical tourist. For two people, this can be a $600 cost saving.”
Cromwell, among the other speakers of this panel, emphasized the necessity of utilizing travel agencies, as they are a resource of tourism and travel knowledge. “Would you go to a doctor to learn about travel? No more than you’d go to a travel agency to learn about knee surgery,” he said.
To meet the needs of traveling patients, Cromwell has constructed his company to handle airfare, hotel accommodations, ground transportation, interpreters and the menu. “In your field, personal service is going to get you a lot further,” he said.
Through the cooperation of these powerful industries, the growth of medical tourism and patient satisfaction can be not only ensured, but expedited. “If we all promote ourselves separately we all end up losing at the end the day – it’s better to promote ourselves together,” Franz said.