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Turn Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones in Medical Tourism

Renée-Marie Stephano
Global Healthcare Accreditation
Industry News

Research and actionable intelligence is at the core of any industry. Without it, no industry players can make informed or intelligent decisions. It holds back growth and opportunity. Without it, there is no transparency and no one knows what is really happening in international healthcare.

What's with the Gloomsday Files?

We all have been waiting for some updated credible numbers and statistics to come to light. Credible sources such as McKinsey, Deloitte and Ernst and Young have left us less than satisfied as statistics from their reports fade quickly in the distance. It's injurious that the research reports from experienced organizations such as these have suffered from the complexity of the medical tourism industry and lack of authenticated information.

To add insult to injury, biased (perhaps vindictive) and financially motivated (perhaps financially distressed) freelancers writers, so called experts and bloggers conduct surveys reportedly holding the only golden ticket of knowledge of industry trends and purported conclusions.

The latest pontification from a bystander concludes that the numbers of U.S. patients inbound to the U.S. is the same as the numbers outbound, which is a stab in the back of medical tourism. It further identifies cosmetic and dental treatment as the largest procedures sought.

Well, no kidding. Not news to anyone that baby boomers are the largest demographic of people living longer and wanting to look better and therefore feel better for the rest of their lives.

In the U.S., the hospitals treating international patients have their own definition of what international patients are, much like the rest of the world. And never do those definitions meet. In fact, a coalition of over 120 academic medical centers in the U.S. has been standardizing this definition and gathering statistics from member hospitals for several years now with no publishable numbers to boast of. That being said, no survey from overseas bloggers would ever contain credible data as to inbound or outbound care when the US hospitals as a group have not reported these numbers.

Other industry pundits have taken a turn for the worse in their own businesses and bring the dark rain upon the industry as a whole. Everyone knows that medical tourism is both a regional and global industry for the very same reasons. Patients are searching for value.

The value proposition consists of better quality, affordability, accessibility, availability plus the perception of the destination for tourism. This means if it is desirable, safe and provides value, it is open for consideration. Surely some people may choose to go to a destination closer rather than further away, however, opportunity waits in many markets as a long term strategic marketing approach.

The groundwork laid today will be harvestable in the future. Is the goal of your facility to have a regional brand or an international one? Diversity and smart investment over a long term period of time can assure both.

Wouldn't it be wise to bury the gloomsday files into the rubbish files along with the rest of the negativity if the industry is to grow? Wouldn't it be fruitful to do something productive for a change add solid stepping stones instead of creating stumbling blocks in the growth of the Medical Tourism Industry?

U.S. Healthcare Market Potential

It is also interesting to note that the U.S. healthcare market is extraordinarily developing in its education process about overseas healthcare opportunities. The key is education and communication. Medical tourism remains a new concept for employers and employees.

The idea of traveling abroad seems seductive to employees and attractive to employers who are seeking cheaper healthcare. American Apparel is strongly researching about it, American Apparel benefits manager Jacqueline Madrigal said. I think lots of employers are going to look outside the box.

I have employees asking me about it (medical tourism), I received letters and e-mails, Madrigal said.

However, the medical tourism concept at first sight can appear hostile to a lot of people. In that way, according to Midwest Group on Health, President and CEO Larry Boress, employers should promote their medical tourism program and educate employees about it. Employees don't understand how lower care can still be high quality just by traveling, Boress said. But they need information and motivation.

According to him, the biggest failures happen when the employees don't have enough information or trust about medical tourism. That can include peers testimonials or credible sources of information.

Global Benefits Underserved

Global Benefits is another underserved area for consideration. From our client work, we are not seeing many domestic carriers cater to medical tourism. What we are seeing are international insurance companies embrace medical tourism as a way to add yet another service in their portfolio of products. Most insurers are targeting high net worth clients with packages that provide for and cover part or in whole, needed medical procedures outside their country of residence,” said David Bryan, president of the Global Benefits Association.

It is clear there is much road to be paved through these international insurance fields which provides ample opportunity for all involved and certainly provides opportunity for investment and growth. In the end, transparency in terms of quality, pricing, education and communication are the keys to a solid foundation in the international healthcare arena.

For this reason MTA combines its annual World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress with the Global Benefits Association's annual event. The overlap provides opportunity to tie the internationalization of healthcare of today with the global benefits programs of the future.

There are a lot of changes going on and new initiatives being put into place all in search of finding the best way to implement this concept of traveling for medical care. Conferences are being held, facilities are being built, deals are being made, target markets are getting defined and countries/regions are combining forces with hospitals, tourism boards and governments and branding themselves as a destination for healthcare, it is no more a standalone hospital promoting how great their dental/cosmetic procedures are.

Hospitals are not throwing out a wide net and expecting to just bring in patients. They realize it will take time and intelligent marketing to really see results in patient flow and revenue. The generalization of the industry may have been a thing of the past, but now defining a target market seems to be the best idea.

It is really great to be a part of a progressive industry which ties together so many aspects of healthcare and benefits. This industry has already shown great results in terms of more PPP activities and improvement of quality healthcare services across the globe.

The growth of Medical Tourism will only bring positive results from many sectors including healthcare, travel, tourism, support industry and insurance sector. Some experts say that insurers are not interested in medical tourism. It is not only unqualified observation; it's also like stabbing the back of medical tourism growth.

In reality, such blanket remarks demonstrates the difference between those who are actively a part of building the industry on a solid foundations and those who sit behind the crumbling walls filling their moats with dirty water.

Dear experts, wake up, open your eyes and accomplish something of value, whether it is from a B-B or B-C level. You all have your respective roles essential to this building process. In the end, it is all about the patient and customer experience. For those who use solid stepping stones, I commend you for your hard work and achievements, future is with you. For the peanut gallery, we hope you will be able to jump over your own stumbling blocks, and if you can't here is the suggestion: at least turn stumbling blocks to stepping stones.

Renée-Marie Stephano is a Founder and the President of the Medical Tourism Association, also known as MTA, which is the first association in the medical tourism industry with an active membership base. MTA is an international non-profit trade association based upon three underlying tenets: transparency in the quality and pricing of healthcare, education and communication. Ms. Stephano also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Medical Tourism Magazine, Health Tourism Magazine, and the Healthcare Development Magazine.

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