A renowned medical tourism consultant, Dr. Prem, evaluates in-depth insight into the blues of Medical Tourism, and offers suggestion on how to cure the blues. If Medical Tourism is to live up to the assurance, several barriers must first be swept away
Medical tourism is viewed as “Medical Outsourcing” by most in the healthcare industry, “Healthcare Globalization” by media and by healthcare seekers as a “Health vacation”. The healthcare system abroad, more so in developed countries, is tagged with flaws. Medical tourism promoting countries are encashing these flaws by swaying the foreign patients, showcasing quality healthcare services at affordable cost.
The industry is growing rapidly because healthcare crises of the developed world become factors of the growth of the industry. When questions of the healthcare cost, lack of availability and need of arise, medical tourism answers immediately by providing affordable, accessible and available care.
Medical tourism could serve as an interim solution until healthcare crises stabilized in the developed world, but this is only possible if medical tourism should not fall under the crises itself. I am afraid that the growth of medical tourism business is gradually sprouting to elicit contention.
The major issues that bring in this second wave in the industry include education regarding the industry, awareness and availability of authentic information, legalization of the system, quality / transparency in operations, ethical aspects, need of a two-way street health system, need for good networking / communication, and the need for one world – one organization – one team.
What is the Perception of Medical Tourism?
The concept of this ‘Generation Next Health Holidays’ are still undercover among few people, which demands creating awareness about the medical care available abroad. Few are clouded with the misconception that it is a mere tourism or trip. Surgeons and Insurance companies alike hate the word “Tourism” in “Medical Tourism”. They take it as a casual industry focused on tourism.
They must be made aware that in Medical Tourism the treatment remains the core focus with tourism as a complimentary. ‘Information overload’ created by innumerable quack blogs, websites and new so called “news” sites are responsible for the unreliable, unauthentic and fraudulent online information. Medical tourism is poorly portrayed due to the word of mouth by ignorant spreading of only the cons, while carefully masking the pros to suit their own business interests.
This can be overcome by keeping the potential healthcare seekers informed about the official and responsible associations dedicated for Medical Tourism related affairs. Making the medical tourism market accessible to travel agents and health tourism websites exclusively recognized by governmental organizations can majorly resolve this issue with high revenue generation. Thus, misrepresentation of this industry can be dragged out for lack of depicting its clear picture.
Medical tourism facilitators must be educated about Globalization of Healthcare, regional healthcare crises and development, evaluation and monitoring of Medical Tourism Related Solutions. They must also be educated and trained about the regional, cultural and language differences, and healthcare ethics. This will enable them to recognize the cultural sensitivity for attracting patients especially from countries like Middle East.
Inside the Package ~ Quality and Transparency
Standardization and transparency in medical outcomes and quality care is a must in healthcare globalization. Safety and quality are of primary concern for potential patients considering medical services abroad. Every medical tourism destination claims to offer high quality service. However, the transparency in many aspects remains a query. In the developed countries health and medical regulatory laws ensure quality. There is little way of knowing an overseas facility or physician has the same quality. Internet claims certainly are highly dubious. Current healthcare accreditation programs might assure quality healthcare services but there is no one healthcare accreditation program dedicated specifically for international patient safety.
Critical issues like pre-operative check up and lack of post-operative follow-up care may involve unexpected complications or side-effects. There is an additional risk is of long flight journeys after the surgery which might lead to thrombosis or embolism. In such cases, the original doctor will be unavailable for rectifying the problem and in turn falls over the shoulders of the healthcare system within their home country. Understanding of post-operative care in medical tourism is still a challenge.
The increasing demand for healthcare services from foreigners is being captured by corporate hospitals to increase their profits with a hike in prices. Besides, there exists a wide difference in this pricing between the hospitals in few countries. Healthcare services for foreigners might seem cheaper, but not necessarily for the locals. Excess glamorization of health care with the hospitals offering five star ambience and services is becoming more and more out of reach to sustain the “value for money”. Serious concern is that the excessive and unjustified importance is given more for packaging than services in medical tourism promotion.
Unethical advertisements are flaunting on the web. Marketing traps could harm the entire industry if not addressed immediately. There lies a need of ethical marketing practice within international and national boundary.
Therefore, the health and medical regulatory laws in medical tourism countries need to be transparent with standards of proper certification or accreditation of Medical Tourism providers and facilitators. They should adhere to standard guidelines to provide the best value and quality practice. The pricing issue can be handled with the concept of ‘price banding’ to provide consistent prices for different therapies and surgeries, which must be legalized by the government, along with accreditation.
Additionally, hospitals can get certified on limiting high charges to foreigners as part of a dual pricing-system while offering lower prices to domestic patients.
Advertising health tourism must be done in a more professional way by the doctors visiting foreign countries, tourist companies, foreign travel agents, and international websites of government tourism. These strategies can minimize the issues of transparency and create a positive picture about the quality standards in the minds of foreign visitors.
Out of the Boundary Challenges ~ Out of the Box Solutions
Delivery of healthcare services for international patients comes with lots of cultural, ethical and legal challenges and complexity. There is no set service definition or scope of work for such segment.
For instance, an international patients’ service desk with a comprehensive patient feedback system and proactive follow up might help in gaining confidence of patients but many hospitals do not provide proper interpreter services, there is not much thoughtfulness about professional healthcare interpreters. Having non-healthcare interpreters’ agents certainly increase the chances of miscommunication.
So far regulating and accreditation bodies have thought only about patient safety programs through developing quality healthcare services but out of the box solutions require for international patient considering ethical, legal and cultural challenges.
An Eye on Malpractice ~ Need for Legalization
Medical tourism is viewed as a solution by various medical associations and government authorities bu
t itself is a reason for arising issues due to lack of formal legalization in the industry. Unlike local patients, foreign patients are left with hardly any access to local courts or medical boards in case of any violations due to poor malpractice laws. This is a challenge for both the industry and corporate health care service providers. Hence, it needs an acceptable legal approval officially from the respective authorities- Government, Insurance companies and corporate buyers.
There should be constant support and compensation for healthcare seekers travelling abroad from developed countries like UK and the US in case of any medical malpractice. Patient healthcare financing can be a step ahead offering for under developed countries. Patients must not be allowed to travel abroad unless healthcare services are unavailable, inaccessible, or unaffordable within their healthcare system. This can broadly change the industry scenario in terms of abating these legal issues.
Contention of ‘Medical Apartheid’
Medical Tourism government authorities in many countries are trying to capture the profit by giving high end priority to the foreign patients neglecting the domestic patients. It is widening the gap and decreasing equity in offering healthcare for local patients, bringing in the two-tiered system of the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’. Balancing this local demand vs. global demand is of prime concern and it still remains a challenge to maintain quality on both sides. Healthcare must be affordable, accessible and available in home country and the priority is to be given for the residents.
Finding a platform for bi-lateral communication within the health authorities, B2B opportunities between the medical tourism providers and insurance companies, and the two sectors—healthcare and tourism is challenging.
There are many B2B providers, health authorities and insurance companies, but there is a need of more business to consumer relations communication, B2C events and interaction and platform for non-commercial networking. Many Medical Tourism events are appearing on calendars, but not many are focused on industry related issues and challenges. Medical tourism is in quest of a platform from which regular connections could be established to educate the consumer.
Mutual marketing tactics between the health tourism industry and the foreign Insurance companies is another area to tackle. Marketing the medical tourism concept to the developed countries by state intervention is challenging, as it requires international tie-ups with Health Authorities and Insurance providers.
Coordination between Coordinators
The need of the hour is coordination between medical tourism stakeholders with intense knowledge exchange program between medical tourism promoting countries, medical tourism related association, regulating or accrediting bodies and global healthcare associations. Synergetic efforts would protect the interest of the medical tourism industry, in the view of ultimate objective of delivering quality healthcare services to patients.
Sole Entity for Sole Authority ~ One World, One organization, One team
Most of the issues arise in executing the health tourism activities is due to the different regulations, different standards and different laws existing to govern this industry. There is a need for one sole authority/organization to set direction, objectives, mission and role. This helps in regulating and managing medical tourism effectively with active participation of Healthcare Leaders, Insurance Providers, and Corporate Buyers. Hence, one world – one organization – one team will strengthen the destination to set up uniform standards and legalization of healthcare.
Medical tourism is definitely on the way to ‘The Edge’ in terms of growth but not without controversies. To set back its related issues and avoid hindrance in its burgeoning pace, every medical tourism destination must identify, analyze and implement the mitigating strategies for touching that niche in the industry. For this, the basic key note remains- “A complete quality concierge service is all it takes to make them smile and bow”. Let us work together for one world – one organization – one team.
As I always say, let there be light just not flight.
by Dr Prem Jagyasi Source: Medical Tourism Magazine