As someone interested in attracting international patients, I know how difficult it can be to successfully manage people’s expectations on a consistent basis. From quality assurance to convenience and low price, your international patient clientele can be a tough bunch to please.
But sometimes we can get so caught up in the cold hard data that we forget that decisions are not always based on the lowest price, how many accreditations we have, or the number of procedures we have done.
The fact is an international patient’s decision to choose your hospital is often emotional rather than rational. Sure, great pricing, attractive quality of care indicators, and the latest technology are a good way to stand out. But those hospitals that want to succeed with international patients on a consistent basis need to go beyond the value-benefits that everyone is promoting and focus on the obvious but neglected attributes that, if overlooked, can be the undoing of many an international hospital.
I’m talking about some down to earth common courtesies here that will ultimately make the difference between prospective patients perceiving you as wanting them versus actually caring about them. And there is a big difference between the two!
So what are these elusive attributes that make our prospective patients feel all fuzzy and warm? What is the x factor that allows a relatively unknown hospital to win out over an international powerhouse? Drum roll please…
- Being accessible
- Keeping people informed
- Listening to your prospects and patients
- Anticipating your patients’ needs
- Having knowledgeable staff
- Being honest and transparent
- Empathizing with your patients
“What!” You say, “These are all painfully obvious!” Before I’m accused of mismanaging my readers’ expectations, let me just say in my defense that I did write that they were obvious (third paragraph, fifth line). You know what though? A lot of international hospitals fail at these simple tasks. Not only do they fail, but many probably do not have a clue that they are doing a lousy job meeting their patients’ basic expectations.
Doubt my words? Randomly pick any ten international hospitals and send them an email. Wait two days and see how many responses you get. Wait a week. I have done this exercise several times and my response rate averages just south of forty percent. I’m not talking late responses I’m saying NO RESPONSE…NADA! In other words, even if my numbers aren’t strictly scientific, we can probably assume that on any given day patients have a 50-50 chance of getting a response from international hospitals.
What can you do to be more accessible to your prospective patients?
1. Make it easy for people to contact you
In terms of your website, this means having one or two toll free numbers, a clearly visible email, physical address and web form. Most people don’t have the time to look for a tiny phone number or email hidden in a corner of your website. Make your contact information one of the first elements people see when they land on your website or read through your promotional brochure. Also be sure to specify your office hours so interested prospects and patients know when to contact you.
2. Have the right software for managing your customers and automating repetitive tasks
As the number of people contacting your international patient center increases you will quickly discover that Microsoft Outlook is woefully inadequate to manage all your requests (just ask me!). At Hospital Clinica Biblica, we use relatively inexpensive software that allows us to automatically send prospects a personalized message once they press a web form submit button. Prospects or patients can then receive personalized packets of information on a regular basis without us having to lift a finger. Having access to this capability allows us to manage hundreds of prospect and patient requests without having to hire an army of sales reps or additional case managers.
3. Have enough people available to get back to prospects in a timely manner
Although technology is great, you are still going to need sufficient human resources to answer calls and get back to prospects quickly with more detailed and customized information. When assessing the number of staff you may require, don’t forget that, depending on how you have things set up, some of your “available” staff may be occupied with other important matters such as assisting international patients during their stay at your hospital.
Keeping People Informed
Being accessible is just a start. Taking the initiative to keep your prospects and patients informed is even more important. When you are dealing with dozens or even hundreds of international patient requests on a weekly basis it is very easy to drop the ball on at least a few of them.
For example, a prospect or former patient may be asking so many questions that he or she becomes a “nuisance” to you and you just stop responding to her requests. Perhaps someone has just confirmed a procedure but you simply forget to follow-through with the appropriate information to prepare them for their trip. Maybe an international patient has been delayed in surgery and his companion is sick with worry because you have not informed her what is going on.
Although we all fail on occasion to keep our patients adequately informed, we need to ensure that this behavior does not become a habit. None of us really wants to keep our international patients in the dark, do we? I think the core of the problem lies in the fact that sometimes we are a little lazy and do not take the time to think through all the consequences of continuing on the same road.
I find that one good way to keep me on the straight and narrow is to look at the implications of not keeping people informed. Let me see….it is a sure way to generate misunderstandings, anxiety, anger, and even distrust among our international patients (which ultimately translates into a bad experience with our hospital and fewer international patients). If you really take this to heart then you will do what it takes to keep all of your patients informed.
To keep your prospects and patients informed on a consistent basis requires two things:
1. A change in mindset or philosophy about the way you view your customers
2. The implementation of a system that ensures patients are in the loop at all stages of the Medical Tourism process…
To read the rest of this excerpt, please look out for the MTA’s new guide “How to Build a Successful International Patient Program,” authored by Bill Cook, which will be available at the upcoming 3rd Annual World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in September in Los Angeles, California.
About the Author
As Patient Coordinator for Hospital Clinica Biblica International Department in Costa Rica, Bill Cook oversees operations and customer relationship management initiatives aimed at increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction. Bill also overseas web content development and marketing strategy for Medical Tours Costa Rica, a locally based Medical Tourism operator. Bill can be reached at www.hospitalbiblicamedicaltourism.com.