Over the last few decades, medical tourism has continued to expand as new destinations emerge with world class diagnostic and treatment interventions for patients. Numerous medical travel programs have also emerged over the last decade, promising excellent healthcare delivery across a wide range of services. While these significantly influence where a patient decides to go for treatment, trust is the new metric in the new normal of medical travel. Beyond offering state-of-the-art services with cutting edge technology, patients want to know they are receiving safe care along the care continuum.
Customer distrust has continued to increase over the last few years, especially in the context of COVID-19. According to the Humanizing Brand Experience Report by Monigle, 33% of respondents say they don’t always trust decisions made by their healthcare provider – up from 29% in 2022.
Delivering on this key metric, therefore, requires integrating the nuances of patient safety and patient experience into every stage of the medical travel journey.
Important strategies required in building trust in your medical travel program include:
Build a Strong Online Reputation
Patients often do not need to travel miles to evaluate the quality of your health offerings and services, they can simply leverage digital platforms, such as social media, to see other people’s experiences with your program. And if there’s nothing to see, it also says a lot about your medical travel program.
Building a strong online presence and reputation in the digital age is leveraging a key marketing tool that can help your healthcare business leap forward. Patient feedback, reviews, and concerns are an important way to grow and improve your offerings and also improve your brand visibility.
Patients often rely on these digital footprints to influence their choices, and having numerous positive feedback and reviews puts your program ahead in the minds of prospective clients.
However, building a strong online reputation requires understanding the nuances of the digital ecosystem. Patient experience begins with a patient’s initial interactions with your customer service personnel or even your international patient department, and this often starts with your website.
Your organization’s website should provide adequate information about your services and experience of your healthcare professionals, as well as signposting visitors to appropriate channels if they need more information. Further, a clear and active contact number or email address should be well outlined for visitors and customers who want to ask more questions or seek some clarifications.
Patients gain trust in your program if communication channels operate with ease and their concerns are promptly addressed. If information is not generously provided and patients are still left inadequately informed about their planned procedure or overall care journey, they will likely turn to another healthcare provider for the information they are looking for.
Further, in creating effective communication lines with patients and other health payers, it is important to know what works and what doesn’t. Providing information through inappropriate channels may mean not providing information at all. This requires understanding the needs of your target patient population and what they might consider appropriate.
For instance, providing information via direct phone calls to a population of elderly patients who need complex orthopedic care may achieve better results compared to reaching them via social media platforms versus online and digital media for young, busy clients requiring plastic surgery procedures.
Effective communication also requires cultural competence and leveraging the dynamics of a patient’s culture into communication.
Poor patient outcomes are not only the result of poor management of patients or poor quality of care, but they may also result from poor patient compliance. For medical travel programs, patient compliance is heavily dependent on several unique factors, including cultural competence, proper communication, and good follow-up.
Patients are more likely to ignore treatment instructions if these instructions have not been communicated in ways they can understand. For the international patient, language often poses another barrier that could impair communication. Receiving information in one’s language improves patient engagement and adherence. It also builds trust in their medical care and makes patients more involved in their care.
Cultural competence also influences patient compliance significantly. For example, international patients of Arab origin have certain diet preferences, which if not integrated into their care, may affect their nutritional intake and, in turn, healing and recovery process.
Transparency in pricing is a key concern for many health payers and patients. Traveling miles away from home and unsure about the actual financial implications is not what any health payer wants from their medical trip. But in some cases, patients find they spend more than what was planned or initially agreed upon.
It is not uncommon to encounter issues with underestimating the cost of care or intentionally excluding certain items, including hidden fees, until the last minute. This practice can mislead health payers into making decisions without having full clarity on the overall expenses involved.
To ensure transparency in healthcare pricing, it is important to create an itemized cost breakdown and clear payment policies to ensure both payers and healthcare providers are on the same page. Costs of accommodation and other logistics, such as transportation or concierge services need to be clearly stated if applicable.
Further, extra expenses that may be accrued, such as logistics for companion, management of medical complications or emergencies unrelated to primary treatment, follow-up care plan, and revision treatment where applicable must be adequately clear, to prevent financial mishaps and disruption of care for the patient.
Prioritize Patient Safety and Risk Mitigation
Receiving medical treatment anywhere in the world carries certain risks, such as medical complications, infections, and even death; however, some of these may be significantly accentuated during a medical trip; therefore, healthcare providers must ensure adequate risk mitigation through clear procedures and policies to ensure patient safety along the care continuum.
Risk mitigation begins with having clear policies and guidelines that detail measures to eliminate or minimize these risks. Often, this begins with a careful pre-travel medical evaluation that assesses patients’ medical records and history with careful consideration of the patient’s current medical background vis-a-vis the planned procedure.
The aim of an adequate pre-treatment work-up is to ensure the patient is fit for the planned care at the medical travel destination. Some patients may have co-morbidities that would preclude the patient from traveling or might require special services (e.g., certain medications, use of a wheelchair, oxygen) or conditions that may impact recovery and post-treatment quality of life.
Healthcare providers need to retrieve and evaluate all current test results, imaging studies, or pathology reports as part of pre-travel evaluation. They may also utilize third-party medical opinions to ensure they are on the same page about the patient’s ongoing health concerns and are offering the most appropriate intervention.
In addition to medical risks, medical travel programs require clear policies for managing and preventing infectious risks. A major concern among patients considering treatment abroad is infection, which may include healthcare-related infection or communicable diseases endemic to the region.
To limit this avoidable risk, medical travel programs must ensure their infection control policies reflect global best practices, with multi-level infection control strategies, such as gloving, maintain septic conditions for surgical procedures, deep cleaning of surfaces, use of personal protective equipment, environmental decontamination, and implementing patient safety guidelines.
Accreditation and Quality Assurance
Patients and health payers are now more wary about the quality and safety of care they receive outside their home countries. One factor that distinguishes a medical travel program from another is accreditation. Accreditation demonstrates a program’s competence and quality, reflecting its standards and adoption of international best practices.
Accreditation helps to build trust in the industry and is a factor that keeps patients and health payers assured of the safety and quality of the care they are paying for. Accreditation and Certification also equips healthcare providers as well as non-clinical personnel with the skills and resources needed to meet the needs of the international patient, to ensure excellent patient experience along the care continuum.
Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), a leading authority in medical travel accreditation, equips and trains medical travel programs, medical tourism facilitators, corporate organizations, and individuals on standards and best practices in medical tourism, offering accreditation and certification programs that stand them out in the competitive industry.
GHA’s Accreditation for Medical Travel, Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience, Medical Travel Facilitator Certification, and the Certified Medical Travel Professional support organizations with best practices that mitigate risks to patients and enhance patient experience across all touch points of the patient journey. GHA also provides training that integrates global standards of safety and quality into care delivery, with a sharp focus on patient experience along the care continuum.
These accreditations and third-party evaluations serve as a crucial trust factor, as they demonstrate a commitment to quality and excellent patient experience.
Rebuilding Trust in Medical Travel
Trust is the new metric for the new normal of medical travel. If a health buyer or payer does not entrust their overall health - mental, physical, and emotional - to your hands during the entire care continuum, they will not be scheduling that flight to your destination.
Medical travel is no longer primarily hinged on a game of numbers - of prices and cost savings - but on a rather symbolic concept of trust. And especially as we move past the pandemic years, you earn that trust not only in saving costs for the patient but also in proactively safeguarding their safety and overall wellbeing.