Medical tourism trends continue to surprise us as the world passes through uncertainty and turmoil. Global healthcare will evolve, and patients’ behavior will bring more dynamism to the market. The world, after the reset has made one thing for sure – increasing demand for quality and affordable healthcare, even if it entails traveling beyond the border. The emergence of new niches promises to make medical tourism more pleasant and experiential with reduced apprehensions and anxiety.
Global healthcare consumers are more conscious about their well-being and safety. Destinations are putting efforts to enhance their attractiveness. We are happy to share the trend analysis from experts of the HTI Round Table Conference, an important event of ITB Berlin NOW.
Evolving Medical Tourism Trends In The Eyes of Experts With Special Insights From Dr Prem Jagyasi
Evolving medical tourism trends–What to expect?
Multi-billion global healthcare business awaits
The good news –. Medical tourism cannot be stalled for a longer time. In some destinations, slow revival is giving hopes of a bounce back. Healthcare demand hasn’t dipped but is at all-time high multiplying the burden of healthcare systems. What is needed at this moment is a proper understanding of the shifting trends of the market.
Lockdowns and slow opening of economies have already created a massive backlog of surgeries and other essential treatments. Nearly $50 bn healthcare business is on hold as patients are unable to travel.
The not-so-good-news – Travel recovery will remain sluggish and one should not expect full-swing travel before 2024. However, this lag would be made up by tech advancements and other ways, which are likely to evolve as future medical tourism trends.
Evolving medical tourism trends – What to expect?
After the unexpected hiatus, medical tourism is happening but not in a big way. This was expected. Not only the pandemic scare but other geopolitical factors and economic conditions are putting brakes on the growth engine. Despite these, Dr Prem maintains a bullish outlook based on high-level interactions with global experts in various medical tourism conferences held this year. Indeed, there are significant observations enough to predict medical tourism trends in 2023. What are we likely to see? Let us do a fast check.
Willingness for international travel is stronger
The good news is, 31% of US citizens are eager for international travel. The US is considered as one of the prime source destinations for medical tourists.The world barring 1 or 2 countries has opened its doors to visitors.The pent-up demand for travel has outweighed the inflationary pressure. And do you know where the US crowd would like to travel? It is Europe and Asia.
Medical Tourism Evolves with 4Ps of Practice
Medical tourism will focus more on 4 core principles of practice -Prevention, Prediction, Precision, and Personalization using cutting-edge technology. A targeted approach based on these principles means improved insights, better outcomes, and delightful experiences.
Patients will look for authentic information
The information gap between the patient and provider in medical tourism is undeniable. Medical tourism trends in the coming years need to focus more on this. The crowd will expand. Newer destinations will emerge with interesting offerings. Cutting-edge technology will drive innovation in products and services. Amid all these ‘new happenings’, patients are likely to be more confused. Which is the best for me and why? They will look for clear and viable solutions to this. When selling becomes the ultimate target, helping with authentic information often takes the back seat.
Medical wellness tourism to gain a stronger foothold
As global disease burden keeps rising, patients will look for enhanced wellbeing strategies for good health. Medical tourism is getting increasingly interwoven with personalized wellness programs, creating the new niche medical wellness tourism.We are seeing fresh investments in integrated medical wellness facilities in reputed medical tourism destinations.
Reputed healthcare facilities are teaming up with wellness resorts, spas, and centers to create a blissful medical wellness experience. Wellness resorts, on the other hand, are hiring doctors, specialists, and creating diagnostic setups for a seamless experience ensuring targeted outcomes.
Patient journey mapping for delightful experience
Patient satisfaction is no longer the ultimate target. It is the era of creating delightful patient experiences.Frictions in patient’s interaction points in their journey breed dissatisfaction. You lose them even before you get them. Ensure a smooth and enjoyable patient interaction at every online and offline interaction point.
Do you know, 50% of healthcare consumers say, one poor digital experience can spoil their entire experience?
Immersive doctor patient experiences
Fear of the unknown influences patients’ decision-making.Patients planning a treatment in a foreign facility will be eager to have a prior experience of how the system works. Video tours in websites do not give that real time experience. In ‘Uberization of Medical Tourism’, expect immersive doctor-patient experiences through ‘Virtual Hospitals’, a few notch elevated experience than telemedicine. Patients can get a real experience of the facility and doctor ‘virtually’ before travel.
Luxury medical tourism to gain pace
Do you know that global high networth population touched record high levels in the past two years growing by more than 50%? Therefore, jetting off to a destination for medical treatments in a private jet will not be a far-fetched dream for many. Luxury facilities and hotels are gearing up for discerning customers who look for science-driven cutting-edge treatments for quicker outcomes at the same time enjoying a great rejuvenating experience in destinations. Indeed,great opportunities await luxury planners and luxury medical wellness resorts.
Bigger influence of online reputation
Much of the medical tourism provider’s trust and reliability index will be gauged by online reputation. And why not when 94% of healthcare consumers check online reviews to evaluate providers and 84% of consumers rely on reviews just as personal recommendations.Patients’ narratives and the providers’ reciprocation will be under constant watch. Patient always want to ensure that they are in safe hands while selecting a provider. Therefore, brands need to be more aware of online conversation happening on the net and put concerted efforts towards more positive reviews and comments.
Aesthetic medicine tourism, the emerging niche
The zoom boom has triggered anxiety on self-image. People are more inclined to prevent aging rather than slowing it. Looking good with aesthetic treatments gives a massive psychological boost to individuals. No pains but great gains. No doubt, this has become integral in self-care wellness practices. Given the rise of integrated medical wellness trend, travelling for aesthetic treatments will be quite common as it best fulfills the twin purpose of vacationing and wellness.
Reverse medical tourism
The trend that initiated before the pandemic will gain traction as more source destinations ramp up their medical facilities to stop outbound medical tourism. Public-sponsored abroad travel for patients has been extensively resource draining, countries have realized that. GCC nations are showing the way. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar trying to put themselves in the medical tourism destination map. African nations are trying to rebuild their healthcare infrastructure through strategic partnerships with reputed healthcare brands. Expect more global healthcare leaders launching state-of-the-art facilities in underserved destinations.
AI is the future of Medical Tourism Marketing
AI is everywhere in healthcare. It has pervaded the medical tourism sector as well. Quality lead generation is the biggest challenge in medical tourism despite things looking good. How to be in the patient’s know?What is the talk going behind?Instead of scratching the AI scans voluminous data without getting tired and generates valuable insights faster for you to run targeted promotion and advertising on time.
Dr Prem Jagyasi,globally-acclaimed medical and wellness tourism consultant and award-winning speaker, CEO of Dr Prem & Associates, India
From his vast experience in global medical and wellness tourism consultancy services covering 65+ countries, Dr. Prem makes the following observations:
Countries to undergo a massive restructuring of their tourism policies
Even there is pent-up demand, travel would no longer be that easy and smooth at least for some more years as put in by Dr Prem Jagyasi. Countries will not open up at the same time as we know 1/3rd of the global destinations are closed for international travel (UNTWO report). Different destinations will have different safety protocols for travellers which might not be convenient for international patients planning for medical tourism. Destination safety protocols are likely to affect the travellers’wallets and influence destination selection.
Integration of wellness tourism to add sustainability to medical tourism business
According to Dr Prem, medical tourism businesses would work based on short-term and long-term strategies to make it sustainable and viable. Every penny invested in the business should fetch returns instead of getting transferred to the patients. He believes, integrating wellness tourism with medical tourism would help in reaching short-term objectives as well as create the base for sustainability.
Patients no longer will prefer staying in crowded places or hotels but will look for accommodations in serene places well-equipped with medical wellness facilities that will support their needs.Patients will feel confident about their physical and mental wellbeing in a location away from home. So, we will see
- Hospitals and providers will be integrating more wellness practices/treatments in their medical procedures.
- Wellness resorts and hotels will also integrate specific medical procedures with their existing wellness programs and therapies.
- Medical tourism facilitators will have to integrate wellness tourism activities into their offerings.
Telewellness services to develop more along with telemedicine
Medical tourism will see the growth of Telemedicine and telewellness to meet diverse wellness needs of the patients. Patient management portals will be integral for any medical tourism program making things easier for patients regarding planning for travel, treatment, and tourism activities.Global patients have taken to the internet for authentic information about health and wellness. Telewellness services will also provide strong support to pre-and post-treatment follow-ups and disease management through online sessions with therapists and coaches.
AI-Driven matchmaking to see a sharp demand growth
Finding the right match to meet a patient’s medical and non-medical needs will not be easy with changes and restrictions in the destinations’ tourism policies. Dr Prem Jagyasi feels facilitators and providers will depend more on AI-driven advanced medical tourism matchmaking services for enhanced patient experience. AI-driven matchmaking will help in proper evaluation of physicians, destinations, facilities, treatments (including wellness programs), and other allied services as per the patients’ needs.
Expect medical tourism to be more dynamic
Restructured tourism policies will make medical tourism more dynamic.All countries will not be open to all nationals, this will be periodically evaluated based on the pandemic situation of the source country. The growth curve will tilt in favour of those destinations offering the best services with reduced quarantine and Covid-related restrictions. Incidences of superbug and other infections will possibly rise that would heavily impact medical travel.
Medical tourism marketing strategies to be more ‘humane’
Marketing medical tourism should not be stalled even when things are going slow. Amid all strategies, being humane counts. The value of relationships is strongly felt during this crisis. Care and compassion create everlasting impression than anything else. Everybody is in a hapless state, the situation is worse in patients looking for immediate care. Global brands will focus more on care, compassion, and concern to win more customers and retain the old as well.
Even the global travel scenario is not so encouraging, we got some promising opinions from Sandeep Vohra, Chief Executive Technology Investments, Roseview Enterprises, Dubai, UAE.
Traveler’s confidence for long-distance medical tourism to resume in due course
Global population has learned to live with Covid-19. People will soon realise Covid-19 is not the only communicable disease to battle with. They will find new ways to deal with it and navigate life accordingly. The global vaccination drive will further boost the travelers’ confidence even though no vaccine ensures 100% protection. Expected decrease in infection due to vaccination will lead to further lifting of border restrictions. Destinations would be ready to welcome patients for elective and critical medical care of course with due healthcare and sanitization protocols in place.
Better opportunities for neighbouring destinations
Regional medical tourism travel is growing reasonably owing to pandemic-induced travel restrictions where patients are unable to take long-haul flights. This will further boost traveler confidence and help the return of normalcy. UAE and Jordan have already started focusing on this growing medical tourism trend. Patients from central and North Africa are visiting these countries for treatments that could not be delayed. Regional medical tourism growth has been marked in Africa with Kenya seeing more patients from neighbouring countries who could not take long distance travel during the pandemic.
Destinations to focus more on safety protocols
Leading medical tourism destinations could no longer afford to wait for Covid-free world to permit international patients to avail of necessary medical services. However, ‘Safe travel’ will remain the prime concern of patients in destination selection. Travelers’ perception of safe destinations will matter a lot. Destinations curbing the pandemic better will always be preferred by patients. Notable strategies to be adopted by these countries would be:
- Creation of Covid-free travel corridors facilitating safe travel for patients.
- Select Covid-free hospitals to treat patients for other illnesses.
- Constant monitoring of patients and their companions for Covid-19 and other infections.
- Expanding Covid-free bubbles to build travelers’ confidence ensuring these absolutely safe for travel.
- Speeding up vaccination in local population and extensive testing of international patients regardless of Covid-negative certificates carried by them.
While medical tourism industry has been severely impacted from travel restrictions, Christian Fadi El-Khouri, Managing Partner, MESC International Patient Service GmBH, Wiesbaden, Germany has different views. He also enlightened us on other aspects.
Medical tourism will grow despite border restrictions
According to him, border restrictions have been there in many places long before Covid-19 and will be there for various reasons. Medical travel for urgent cases has been made possible despite toughest border restrictions. But at some point, restrictions will no longer be that stringent but get normalized slowly allowing medical tourism to flourish. He specifically mentioned, it is not only the border restrictions but also the hospital regulation that had a greater impact on medical tourism in the pandemic.
When asked of business sustainability in such challenging times his confident response was medical tourism will continue to be a sustainable option for destinations and other stakeholders. Great news for those struggling to sustain amidst such uncertainties.
Destinations to work more to improve their brand image as ‘safe to travel’
Destinations safe to travel are not only linked to Covid-19 but also the healthcare system and other possibilities that foreign patients are likely to get associated with. Destinations need to communicate with their target customers about their infrastructure for direct support to assist and intervene if needed. Apart from showing effective infection prevention methods in place, destinations need to maintain transparency and personal communication with travelers through efficient infrastructure to ease travelers’ anxieties.
Post-Covid medical tourism growth to depend on enhanced coordination of stakeholders
While focusing on the safety aspect seems to be great for medical tourism to flourish but this is not all. Different destinations will adopt different strategies which is not easy to predict. Most important of all will be presenting an interconnected infrastructure that works in sync to assist patients not the standalone stakeholders. Destinations should emerge as a ‘destination’ not just a place. It would be important to unify different stakeholders and create mutually-benefitting offerings as a united front instead of fragmented services.
Global medical tourism conferences and events are of immense significance. With ITB Berlin 2021 witnessing great success in Virtual Hosting, will it be the future norm? Well, Leila Kresic-Juric, Managing Director and Partner, HTI Partner Ltd has her opinions here.
Virtual meets will encourage bigger audience gathering
ITB Berlin NOW once again proved the necessity of high-profile global meets especially during challenging times. It has also proved Virtual Meetings can be as effective as in-person meetings sans the travelling load including time and expenses.
According to Leila, the organization partner of the Medical Tourism Segment ITB Berlin NOW, meeting efficiency is much enhanced in the Virtual Mode. Participants can focus entirely on the interaction and presentations, undistracted and undisturbed.
Although the personal touch is badly missed in virtual hosting, the hybrid mix-n-match approach could be a better alternative where participants will have the option to choose the mode convenient for them.
During the pandemic when everything dived, digital world thrived. According to Dr. Sherif Hassan MD, CEO & Founder, Tripsetc Travel Company, Maryland, USA, digital models will see expanded applications. Preventive measures to stay despite mass vaccination.
Hybrid-model of treatment to grow more as a Post-Covid medical tourism trend
According to him, in-person treatment is a must for surgical procedures and other tactile examinations, but a hybrid-model of medical tourism has already set in. Online/remote consultations have grown sharply where physicians can easily prescribe specific treatment protocols. Patients will only have to plan only for essential medical travel excluding pre-treatment checkups and would need minimum hospital stay. In all instances, Telemedicine will play a pivot role in follow-up, patient engagement, and client retention.
Telemedicine to find more use in therapeutics monitoring thereby reducing physical visits
Telemedicine will play a huge part but would not completely obviate the need for the necessary healthcare provider face-to-face interaction that will be situation-dependent. The casual thought that Telemedicine only involves Virtual or video visits has to be explained to the public; in addition to e-visits, it also entails Remote Monitoring and examination tools, patient provision of samples including blood microsampling, Therapeutics monitoring along with medications, patient education, and coaching. If we apply these principles, we will minimize the need for the actual patient to doctor /facility visits.
Vaccine certificates will be useful but not the key consideration for medical tourism growth
According to him, vaccination Certificates will be an important but not the only crucial factor. We still have to apply all the preventives methods we can with rigorous planning and implementation. According to Mr. Hassan, we have to learn from the Chinese model as they had better control of the virus even before any vaccine was introduced to the public.
Reverse medical tourism model could get more consideration
Covid-19 may create a reverse medical tourism trend whereby specialists and healthcare workers may fly to select source countries and set up multispecialty facilities or part-time clinics/hospitals. Though this model seems to be interesting but one has to factor in cross-border healthcare rules and regulations. The providers may need to go for additional registrations and licensing to comply with the destination regulations which might be complicated. This proposition may be feasible in European Union, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand where mutual recognition of Healthcare curricula, scientific degrees and healthcare accreditation exist.
Get Dr Prem’s Expertise to grow your medical tourism business
A deep understanding of emerging trends is the cornerstone of a successful medical tourism business. You can learn about these trends and its future impact on your business only from a globally recognized medical tourism expert Dr Prem Jagyasi.
With an extensive travel history to 65+ countries delivering insightful keynote speeches, masterclasses, and workshops, Dr Prem understands the dynamism of medical tourism better. His medical tourism consultancy has helped many medical tourismbusinesses across the globeseebetter margins even in tough competition.
His global clientele includes popular healthcare organizations, independent medical tourism businesses and associations, and also authorities of leading medical tourism destinations. Get Dr Prem’s insights on interesting trends that will drive tomorrow’s medical tourism.