It is true, more people are opting for medical tourism, but making it a successful venture all alone in a foreign land is never easy. While factors like cost savings, quality healthcare and specialized procedures can be considered as the foremost reasons for the same, another salient feature that influences a medical tourist’s perception of a specific destination for treatment is the holiday and its related issues included in the package. This is where travel agencies come into the picture. Travel agencies have become a crucial support system for medical tourism businesses.
The travel industry has also seen tremendous growth in recent years along with medical tourism, with many travel agencies sprouting out of nowhere to arrange trips and holidays for medical tourists during as well as after their treatment. These agencies work in liaison with the patient’s medical condition as well as religious, cultural, and social beliefs when planning these trips, thereby contributing to the growth of medical tourism in a salient manner.
In this medical tourism guide you will read about:
A Guide About the Role of Travel Agencies in Medical Tourism – Importance, Essential Features, Market Opportunity and Tips for Medical Tourists
A specialized category of travel agency
Travel agencies can be classified into different groups based on their services, with each group helping promote medical tourism business in a country in its own way. For instance, there are specialist service providers who offer first-hand information about different travel destinations, plans and packages, etc. These factors would influence a medical tourist’s choice of destination for treatment.
Specialist medical tourism and travel agencies help deal with all the necessary travel and accommodation arrangements for medical tourists. They work closely with the healthcare provider to plan out each and every detail of the travel to perfection, including visas, flights, lodging, dining, transport options, insurance, even currency exchange, etc. This would minimize any hassles the patient would have to face during the trip. A reputed travel agency specializing in these services, or medical tourism facilitator companies, would then automatically influence a patient’s choice of a specific medical tourism destination, thereby leading to the growth of the industry in that destination
Let us take an example to understand this better. India is one of the foremost medical tourist destinations in the world, specializing in procedures related to cardiology, urology, neurology, and orthopedics, etc.
Most medical tourists who visit India for treatment do so for the latter’s affordable healthcare costs. However, the chance of enjoying a holiday in one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth seems to be another factor for India’s popularity among medical tourists, and maybe also a reason for the success of medical tourism business in India.
Collaboration with medical tourism facilitators
Medical tourism facilitators work in close collaboration with reputed travel agencies in the country to plan the patient’s travel arrangements during and after the treatment. So, while a medical tourist arriving in India would be able to visit nearby attractions during treatment (depending on the medical procedure), he/she would be able to recuperate in a luxury spa or wellness destination afterwards before heading back home. As such, travel agencies would work alongside the medical tourism facilitator to ensure that this part of the medical tourist’s trip is handled well.
Medical tourism is a great opportunity to travel agents
People travel all over the world for treatment but most of them do not travel alone. A number of these people combine treatment with some sight-seeing in the destination country. This gives rise to a large market for tour operators that need to be tapped.It is quite likely that the patients’ companions would opt for some tourism activities in a foreign destination. The contribution of these companions to the growth of the travel market is not negligible which has been creating great opportunities for travel agents.
Medical tourism market is growing very fast at about 20 percent per year. Global medical tourism market is estimated to be worth $40 billion to $60 billion. Travel agents have not tapped this lucrative market as yet. However, it is right time to get serious about this industry. A better collaboration with hospitals, medical tourism facilitators and businesses will help to create an efficient medical tourism ecosystem.
How Travel Agencies can tap the medical tourism market?
Understand the operating model of medical tourism
Before venturing into this market, a travel agent needs to understand how this industry works. Hospitals promote their facilities and treatments on their websites. They try to attract the foreigner by highlighting all the aspects that might appeal to them. Many hospitals have their staff especially assigned to look after and work for patients from other countries.
They provide complete medical report of the patient to the doctor, and provide feedback to the patient. These hospitals have tie ups with travel agents who help patients with procuring visa if required, and arrange for the stay of the patient and his attendant. After completion of all the formalities, the patient travels to the destination country.
Spot the opportunities
Many patients opt for some sight-seeing along with their treatment if their health permits them. A number of people who travel abroad for medical procedures such as dental care are not very sick and combine treatment with sight-seeing. Tour operators might arrange sightseeing tours for the companion of the patient. In fact, many countries have understood the importance of medical tourism, and thus encouraging people to come to their country for various treatments.
Help as a facilitator
Medical travel facilitator has a number of responsibilities. He should have visited the hospital and determine whether the facilities are of good quality and are accredited. They have to act as the liaison between patient and the doctor. It is expected of the facilitator to follow certain ethical values and provide patient full importance and guidance. There is a large market waiting for travel agents who work with medical tourists and medical travel facilitators.
Tips to finding a good medical travel agency
If you are planning to avail your treatment abroad by going on a medical tourism, you need to take care of a lot of things to ensure a good treatment. There are many travel agencies that cheat you and do not provide with you with the quality service though they charge a lot for the same. The only way to find the accurate details about the medical travel agencies is to conduct good research on all the medical travel agencies available in your area.
Here are few useful tips:
Check the reviews
You can always look for the review of the medical travel agencies vowing to provide the best ever services for medical tourism. Try to peruse the expertise offered by medical travel agencies concerned to providing information for the best facilities of the medical care requirements, scheduling treatment and accommodation. Various travel agencies may differ in providing all these facilities to their customers. You can select the travel agency based on your liking and requirements.
Check the credentials and offerings
You can request the medical tourism agencies to share the facilities provided by them, certifications, accreditations, and biographies of medical professionals to ensure their credibility in this field.
Check the response time
If you get response within 24 hours of placing your query, it ought to be a great medical travel agency. In general, one should respond within 48 hours considering the weekends. While in the foreign destination, you should get their support 24X7.
Have a face-to-face interview
Experience matters in medical tourism. Since how long are they helping medical travelers? How well do they understand their special needs? What is their contingency plan if things do not work as expected? What is their mode of support in exigencies? Get all these queries clarified in a face-to-face interaction.
More a travel agency handles medical travelers better is their exposure. They are well aware of the possible pitfalls and can help you in preventing those. But make sure they have a proven track record else the inflated numbers and tall claims would mean nothing to you.
Ask for customer references
If you want to select the best medical tourism agency in your locality, you may trust on them by knowing how long they have been in this. It is quite obvious that if they do not provide customer satisfaction, it would be a herculean effort for them to survive in business. You can ask them for reference of their past clients so that you can talk to them and get sure about the business stature of the agency.
Check their expertise in arranging medical support
A good medical travel agency must have employed a registered nurse or doctor to help them know the actual medical issues with their clients as it would help them find the best possible medical care around the globe in a reasonable fee.
If you get to know that the agency sends all the patients to one medical facility, you can straightaway take your decision of not opting for the particular agency as this shows their lack of knowledge of service providing and they only want to make profit. They do not care about the correct hospital match for the clients for their medical concerns.
How good is their reach?
A seasoned travel agency is likely to have better access to hospitals, accommodations and other conveniences. They could manage to skip the booking queues and get your job done faster than others. Cross-check with other customers about their network and reach so that it helps you in accessing quicker services.
Verify the information provided by them
The information on the credentials of the potential doctor referred by the agency must come from the hospital. It should not come from any third-party source as it might be tampered or fake. You should make sure that the agency is ready to carry forward your medical details and handle it to the concerned hospitals and they should make the arrangements for you to get back your medical details later after treatment.
Get the details of the cost and potential savings
It is obvious that a medical travel agency will provide you with the entire break up of associated costs. Check what services are included in it and whether there is any hidden cost or not. Many medical travelers miss out this vital point and end up shelling a huge amount of money. Get a fair estimation of different rates related to travel, food, accommodation and also treatments and the potential of your cost saving.
Ensure the point of contact
Whom you can turn to in a foreign land in need? Your travel agency should provide valid contact details of a person or office whom you can reach out anytime. You will need their support in a foreign land as you are not aware of the local system.
Travel firms cashing on the growth of medical tourism industry
The rise in the costs of medical facilities in the developed countries has helped in the fast growth of the medical tourism industry. Medical tourism lets patients in need of medical attention travel overseas from the developed nations to another country for getting treatments at affordable prices.
Many people are now eager to combine medical treatments with a holiday in the exotic third world countries. As a result, the travel firms that facilitate medical tourism for their clients are earning huge sums of profit. From just a new medical trend, medical tourism has turned into a growing and thriving industry.
Medical tourism is offering splendid business opportunity to the travel firms, which are still operating in the traditional ways. All they need to do is contact medical tourism facilitators and join hands with them for getting their share of profit. At present, the approximate worth of the international tourism industry has been calculated to be $40 to $60 billion. Every year this industry is growing by 20%. The new age patients are more aware of what type of medical and tourism facilities they want so the travel firms have to offer unique and if possible customized packages for them.
In the developed countries, people do not get timely treatments either due to the long list of patients waiting their turn or due to the lack of money. In the past few years, the cost of different medical facilities has increased at a staggering rate. Now most of the middle class people are not even able to visit doctors whenever the need arises. For surgeries, they have to spend even the last bit of their savings.
Medical tourism has helped in changing the scenario. Patients in need of urgent medical facilities, treatments and surgeries are traveling abroad for affordable care. The travel firms are letting them enjoy their trips abroad and making their stay in the third world countries safer and more enjoyable. Most of them are offering sight seeing tours, local guides or translators, and excellent accommodation facilities. The cost of medical surgeries can be reduced by an overwhelming 60% to 70% easily by traveling overseas. Every year more patients are becoming medical tourists, increasing the chances of profit for the travel firms.
Essential travel arrangements for medical tourism trip
Travel Arrangements in Medical Tourism goes over the preparations to be made in order to travel abroad.Booking a flight is the first step in preparing for a medical journey. However, it is important to remember that travelers are patients first and foremost, so when booking a flight, medical tourists should consider their health. Once you have decided the medical tourism destination and the clinic, the next is to focus on how you are going to get there. If you are traveling internationally, there are so many things that you have to consider, such as purchasing travel insurance in order to protect yourself from unpleasant situations. Here we will talk about few important things you should keep in mind while making travel arrangements:
When traveling overseas for quality affordable medical care, you should give attention to travel arrangements in order to avoid any hassles during your medical journey. Once you have decided on the medical tourism destination and the hospital where you will receive medical treatment, it is time to focus on how you are going to get there.
Destination exploration in medical tourism
Most of the popular medical tourism destinations (India, Thailand, and Singapore) have beautiful tourist attractions that you may wish to visit. Experiencing the delights of a new country and culture can be a wonderful experience for people who do not get to travel out of their home country very often.
If you would like to explore the country it is best you do so before beginning the medical treatment. Since you are traveling predominately to access medical services, it could be difficult to do any exploring once you have completed your treatment as you might be medically advised bed rest in order to recuperate.
Most medical tourism destinations have various outdoor and indoor activities for tourists: sightseeing tours, sports leisure activities and more. Choose an activity that you would enjoy as it will help you relax and take your mind off the impending medical procedures and help calm any pre-treatment anxiety and nervousness that you may feel. Your medical tourism consultant would be able to guide you about all the tourist spots. Even though the destination will offer a variety of beautiful and exciting attractions, you should get an approval from the doctor who will be treating you to ensure that the activity will not affect the medical procedure scheduled.
Make sure that you prepare to take a debit card or credit card (for the treatment) so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash around. It might be a little more expensive using cards on your trips (as each transaction would require you to pay a little extra money due to the exchange rate), but it would be better than carrying wads of cash to pay for your treatment and any touristic related activities you plan on engaging in.
It would also be beneficial if you researched on the local ATMs to ensure that they do accept your card, so you’re never left cash-strapped. If the idea of cash and cards do not appeal to you, you can always keep travelers cheques while on your trip, and use these instead.
Reaching the destination?
Once the decision has been made on which destination and facility you will be obtaining medical care from, you need to focus on how you are going to get there. Most often, reaching a medical tourism destination will require air travel. Usually, if you are traveling from a major city, you are likely to find direct flights to your destination; otherwise, stopovers will be included in the itinerary.
The travel arrangements also depend on the country you are visiting for medical treatment, as many countries have their own rules and regulations with respect to international travel. If you are traveling internationally, you must purchase travel insurance in order to protect yourself from unpleasant situations, such as flight cancellation and travel delays due to different reasons. Moreover, you should also check if your medical insurance covers you for overseas travel. Let us talk about a few important things you should keep in mind when making travel arrangements.
Besides the flight arrangements, there are several other things you need to think about before you fly. Your passport needs to be valid and have enough pages for any visas that you might require. Different countries have varying regulations when it comes to visas and entry requirements for individuals from certain countries.
Make sure you clear up any visa doubts BEFORE you travel to avoid any complications. Information can be obtained from the local embassy or consulate in the home country or via governmental websites online. The embassies of the respective countries will provide a detailed checklist of all the components required for obtaining a visa.
At this point one should remember that some countries have stricter visa policies than others. Most of the countries with strict visa policies might require specific documents that prove the purpose of visit. In case of medical tourism, patients must provide the embassy with the necessary medical documents to demonstrate the purpose of the trip. In addition to valid documents, on many occasions one may have to attend a face-to-face interview. The questions are generally directed towards the identification of the purpose of visit. If all the conditions are met correctly then one can expect a visa within a specific time period.
Nowadays with the growth of medical tourism, many countries are offering a visa specifically for medical travel. Obtaining this type of visa would be in the best interest of the traveler as it allows for flexibility in case an extension is required due to unexpected complications. It is created specifically with the medical tourist in mind and therefore offers benefits for the traveler. It would be wise to enquire about this option—the benefits it offers and the cost of it—from an embassy or the facilitator.
In addition to the cost incurred by visa and passport requirements, one may also have to pay entry and exit fees. Some countries charge entry and exit fees from the foreigners visiting the country. The foreign embassies are the best place to enquire about the entry and exit fees for specific countries. In most occasions these charges are nominal. But it is very important to have a clear idea about it for proper budgeting.
Booking the flight is an important step in preparing for the journey. It is possible to book the flight through a facilitator that offers an entire medical tourism package, or by whatever means you have employed in the past to make travel arrangements (either online or through a trusted travel agent). When booking the flight, there are a few things to consider. Remember first and foremost that you are traveling as a patient so consider factors that could have an impact on your health.
● Selection of the airline:
Compare the pricings offered by different airlines. When comparing, do not forget to check the cost of check-in luggage, as it could vary between different airlines. You should always select flights with more than enough time during layovers.
● Avoid delays in booking:
Book your international flight as soon as possible. Last minute booking could cost you a lot.
● Price and comfort are the key factors you need to consider when booking the flight
For example, if you are traveling for a knee-replacement surgery, you might want to consider upgrading your ticket to a business class ticket, so you will have the comfort of more leg room as well as be able to sleep in a fully reclining position on your return travel. Airlines are very flexible and will aim to make their customers as happy as possible—so feel free to ask them for any requirements you might have (e.g. wheelchairs ) on the flight there and back.
● Check the cancellation policy
Consider the fact that some airlines charge you with extra costs during the booking process. Therefore, make sure you get to know the exact amount you will have to pay. When booking the flight, you should always check for the fees and the cancellation policy.
● Get flexible ticket
Also, when traveling by air it is beneficial to buy a flexible ticket. This ticket might be a little more expensive, but it is well worth its cost as you might have to extend your trip due to your medical condition. In case any complications occur and you require more post-operative care, a flexible ticket will avoid you incurring any cancellation fees or non-reimbursable charges. It is important to make sufficient arrangements to stay in the treating country until you are completely recovered and rested from your procedure before traveling back home.
Apart from the above, you need to take care of other aspects as well. These are:
Many people like to visit a country (say India), which they have not visited earlier. Any of the best medical tourism company in India gives them an opportunity to immerse themselves in a completely different culture, which might be entirely unfamiliar to them.
It is essentially vital for you to learn a few sentences in the native language of the destination country. You should know few sentences like how to speak to strangers, how to ask for water and food and how to tell people that you are a medical tourist. This will help you to make an impression on your healthcare provider.
It would be better to make your lodging arrangements in a resort or hotel, which is at a close distance to the healthcare facility. It will be helpful in arranging pre-operative arrangements.
Safety and security
There are many medical destinations, which are not safe for medical tourists. Therefore, it is important to ensure all safety measures in your treating country to ensure that your selected hotel and a healthcare facility are located in a safe neighborhood.
Local travel arrangement
As a medical tourist, you should think about local transport for pick up – drop, and visit of hospital to hotel and other sightseeing. Enquire about the best transport facilities available and their rates. A travel agency can be of great help in this situation.
The above gives a rough presentation of travel arrangement in medical tourism. However, you need to be alert and see whether you need any special arrangements based on your health condition.