Will Patients Come To Your Medical Travel Destination, Post COVID-19?

The natural reaction for countries, healthcare providers and medical tourism businesses is to wait out events, until they return to normal.

But expecting the flow of medical travellers to return to where it was before may be a major strategic and tactical mistake.

How much your country was affected, what your government did or did not do, and the post COVID-19 view of risk may heavily influence the potential medical tourist’s view of your country for the next few years.

For example, will people still want to fly long distances or will they prefer shorter trips? Will they want to leave their country at all?

Plan for the future now

This is now the time to plan for the future. You could do nothing and lock down the hatches and when things get back to normal, carry on as before. Or you could take time out, away from daily life, to make plans for how you can encourage your country, organisation, agency, or healthcare provider to get medical travellers to come to you in 2021/22, both new and existing customers.

WTTC proposals

Coronavirus puts up to 50 million tourism jobs at risk says the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). When the time is right, WTTC and the global private sector will be ready to help and support governments and countries to recover.

WTTC is calling for a series of measures to be taken, to enable the swift recovery of the sector once COVID-19 is under control. It will offer its support to all governments, and has made some suggestions:

  1. Improve travel facilitation. Remove or simplify visas wherever possible, reduce the cost and improve processing times where practical, accept other visas when appropriate and introduce more efficient technologies for seamless and secure travel.
  2. Remove barriers.  Ensure that unnecessary barriers are removed or relaxed to alleviate pressure at ports and airports and implement flexible working visas for the industry in some countries with existing limitations, especially in hospitality and tour operation. 
  3. Ease fiscal policies. Reduce and remove travellers’ taxes, which increase the cost of travel, e.g. air passenger duty and airport, port, and hospitality taxes around the world.
  4. Introduce incentives. Introduce relief and incentives to support business continuity for companies, which have been most negatively impacted by the virus. SMEs, in particular, will take longer to recover. 
  5. Support destinations. Increase budgets and assign resources for promotion, marketing and product development purposes in destinations when they are ready to welcome visitors again.

WTTC reinforces the importance of strong public-private partnerships and greater international cooperation to respond and overcome the challenges faced by the sector during the recovery from COVID-19.

The tourism sector has a proven track record of resilience in the face of crises and this ability to bounce back has improved significantly in recent years.

Medical tourism planning

Unlike the more short-term problems for travel caused by politics, terrorism, weather events or strikes, the COVID-19 problem is a medical one. It will be harder for medical tourism to recover than other tourism sectors.

Hospitals, clinics and agents may be able to use modern marketing techniques to help encourage new and returning customers. But they can only do that if customers feel safe travelling to the country.

Governments and national/regional medical tourism promotional organisations will have to work hard and spend money on tackling the following issues:

  • Smaller global market :  The medical travel market is expected to be smaller in 2020 and 2021 , so what medical tourism customers there are will have a wide choice of destination. Organisations will need to work out how to maximise the effect of their marketing spend to make sure they get a share of the medical tourism ‘cake’.
  • A permanent change? The big unknown is if any change in the behaviour of medical tourism customers will be permanent or temporary. Will they look to travel domestically or to nearby countries rather than go on long-haul flights?  Any plan you make must include allowances for different longer-term results.
  • Maximise spend : The medical tourism industry has many examples of spending marketing money in the wrong places (e.g. scatter-gun promotion tactics ; exhibition stands or attending unknown “international health” conferences ). But is that spending reaching the end consumer? Are you still using outdated websites and printed brochures, when most of the world has moved to different online options to research treatments?  Are you still blogging, when competitors have apps, Instagram pictures and remote tele-consultations?
  • Target market : Are the target markets you selected in your 2020 plan the right targets now? It is easy to get locked into a habit of targeting what was the best market five years ago, rather than looking towards what will be the best markets in a year’s time. Check out opportunities by country, location, age, and a range of other factors.  
  • Your offer : Is your offer targeted, logical and realistic, or more the equivalent of trying to hit a small target with a shotgun? Is the offer now right for you and potential customers?
  • Keep informed : As well as reading IMTJ, are you using up to date research produced by your country and others? There are many ‘copy-and-paste reports’ in the market that use historic figures but offer little or no analysis for the future.
  • Accreditation : Some medical tourism accreditation organisations suggest that accreditation is the answer to attracting international patients and some governments look like they are controlling rogue medical tourism agents by bringing in accreditation.  While accreditation may help improve the standard of hospitals and clinics, there is however no proof that accreditation alone brings in international business. It is likely that the average medical traveller is less concerned about whether  their medical travel agent has or does not have a certificate, and more interested in whether they are cheap and efficient.

Beware one size fits all solutions

There is no off-the-shelf simple plan for recovery that you can follow post COVID-19. Bespoke solutions for medical travel destinations are now vital. COVID-19 will move medical tourism into the next phase, where what works and makes money for Country A, will be irrelevant for Country B to adopt.

If you want to plan for 2021 and commission your own research or specialist strategy, you must set aside enough time to work out, in detail, what you want from it.  It will then take more time for a good analyst to work out the best action plan for your destination.

Source : www.imtj.com

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How Will COVID-19 Shape Medical Tourism Development?

COVID-19, an unknown term six months ago, has become the greatest fear of individuals and companies. And while much coverage in the media has tended to spread panic, some posts and articles, like Reuters, are now taking a more pragmatic approach.

How might COVID-19 change the shape of the medical travel market?

Like most sectors, the medical travel market includes providers of many different sizes.  Here’s how they might be affected: 

  • The small and market-sensitive: Mainly medical travel consultants, startups and small agencies (facilitators). These individuals tend to have limited budgets and cash flow, and are most sensitive to fluctuations in medical travel flow due to ‘COVpanic’. They are likely to cut back on marketing and customer services immediately, dismiss personnel (if they have any) and potentially even disappear from the market. It may also be difficult for them to restart their business after the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The medium size medical travel providers: these professionals, mainly average size clinics or agencies, are in a better position. They might consider the COVpanic just as another crisis, possibly downsize their staff, reduce their spending, and cancel their participation in events. They will be more committed to maintaining their business through the crisis.
  • The large and well-established businesses in medical travel: these professionals, mainly large clinics, hospitals, hospital groups and the largest agencies have heavily invested in an international patient business which has, pre-COVID-19, generated high revenues. They are the most resilient to a business downturn due to COVpanic. It is likely they will continue to invest in this business, and will take a pragmatic approach to foreign patient cancellations. For them, this is just another crisis that will pass. 

There is one other provider group within the medical travel sector, who could be any sized, whom I call the “wise ones”.  They will use their time when there are fewer customer interactions, for preparation and reorganisation. They will update themselves about what is currently changing in the international patient market, train their people, rewrite their business plan,  apply healthcare protocols, and search for new markets. They will also try to identify the ‘where and when’ of future opportunities once the COVpanic subsides. 

Impact on medical travel events

Event organisers are as sensitive to the impact of COVID-19 as tourism providers. Many medical travel events, especially the ones that were scheduled during the first six months of 2020 have been cancelled or moved to a future date. 

This has been influenced by the personal choice of people not wanting to travel, but also in several countries there are now national restrictions on public gatherings.

Seasoned event organisers have downsized their events (and expenses) by booking smaller halls and anticipating fewer delegates, rather than stepping out of the market entirely. Medical travel exhibitions have proved even more sensitive than conferences, as they need a high number of anticipated visitors in order to be sustained. 

In this space, we might see live streaming and use of technology to facilitate knowledge sharing and networking by remote delegates, take a more central role in medical travel events in the future.

Planning recovery after COVID-19: it’s about patient perception 

The more pragmatic media articles predict that, like other flu, health or political crises, COVID-19 will pass.  We just don’t know when. 

Some physicians believe that it will peak soon, then decrease during the summer months.

To attract international travellers as tourism picks up again, flights and accommodation costs may be very competitively priced. Treatment costs will possibly follow, along with the other related services in medical travel. The first medical travellers after COVID-19 are likely to enjoy their treatment journey at very affordable prices and with no waiting time at all.

The established medical travel destinations, whose governments and health bodies have best managed to contain COVID-19 may be seen as ‘safer’ countries for patients looking at healthcare options abroad.  Medical travel providers in these countries who have survived the COVpanic are the ones who are likely to enjoy the first fruits of the post COVID-19 era.

Finally, lessons from COVID-19 are an opportunity for accreditation companies. Healthcare quality assurance is now an even hotter topic and so far, many hospitals with certifications from high quality accreditation companies have been well prepared to handle the crisis. A line of protocols that was applied to hospitals (mainly private) has played a significant role in identifying this virus early, so protecting the rest of the hospital patients. With other hospitals, maybe COVID-19 will be the motivation  for providers to improve and become safer for the patient.

Source : www.imtj.com

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Why Is Medical Tourism Accreditation So Misunderstood?

Below are five of the most often heard and repeated fallacies about accreditation within the healthcare and medical tourism sectors.

Myth #1: Accreditation is a fault-finding mission.

Myth: Healthcare providers can be a little afraid of accreditation, seeing it as a way to find things that are wrong. They labour under the misconception that assessors will walk through their hospitals or clinics pointing out everything that is wrong, real or imagined. It is perceived to be a fault-finding expedition that points fingers, lays blame, and imposes guilt on responsible parties.

Fact: Accreditation is a collaborative team-building process designed to guide organisations to become better at everything they do. Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), patient safety, risk management, and an excellent patient experience are the four pillars of a good accreditation program.

Accreditation offers the best clinical and non-clinical practices to inspire hospitals and clinics to improve their systems and processes to benefit patients, staff, and the overall organisation. The self-assessment component of accreditation breaks down barriers among departments to create a cohesive approach to service delivery, improving the patient experience as well as the bottom line. Assessors offer advice, share examples, support and coach clients to a higher level of excellence.

Fact: Working with an appropriate accreditation company dispels this and other misconceptions about accreditation and engages the healthcare organisation in a journey of Continuous Quality Improvement.

Myth #2: Accreditation is just completing a “To Do” check list.

Myth: Assessors will show up with a check list of items, and make sure everything on the list is there. When everything on the list is ticked off, accreditation is granted.

Fact: Accreditation is a holistic approach to ensuring that the systems and processes within a clinic or hospital are integrated and functioning optimally to maximise the benefits to patients, staff, and the organisation overall. A check list approach simply cannot and does not work. For example, a check list approach would look to see if the hospital has fire extinguishers. An accreditation assessor will want to know if the fire extinguishers work, if people know where they are located, who knows how to operate them, and so on.

Myth #3: Accreditation automatically leads to more patients.

Myth: “My hospital or clinic should get accreditation because I want more patients. If I put the accreditation seal on the website and at the front door, more patients will come to us for services”. A more unfortunate scenario reported to me is that assessors have been told, by less than ethical individuals, that just getting the accreditation will result in more patients.

Fact: Accreditation is designed to improve the quality of clinical and non-clinical services for hospitals and clinics. Enhanced quality of services is one factor that individual patients as well as third party payors look for when selecting where to go or where to send people for healthcare. The benefits of accreditation, once measured and analysed, can be used for marketing purposes; however, it is the responsibility of the provider to develop and market the qualities that are sought after in the marketplace, rather than promoting the accreditation badge.

Fact: Accreditation by itself will not “auto-magically” bring more patients to a hospital or clinic. It is one component of successful marketing that depends on a number of factors including consumer choice, the organisation’s Unique Selling Proposition, and more. Accreditation is a tool, not a magic wand.

Fact: Ethical accreditation companies will never promise or represent that accreditation automatically leads to more patients.

Myth #4: Accreditation companies offer more than accreditation services.

Myth: Accreditation bodies offer more than just accreditation, such as access to mailing lists, databases, and insurance company contracts. These add-ons are promoted to healthcare organisations as free business-building services.

Fact: Ethical accreditation organisations do one thing and one thing only: provide independent, neutral, professional, and independent assessments of the quality of the clinical and nonclinical services provided by a healthcare organisation.

Fact: Developing marketing and sales is the responsibility of the hospital or clinic, not the accreditation organisation that has been selected. Accreditation organisations that offer “freebies” or add-ons like mailing lists, databases, or other promises are over-stepping their role as independent assessors. Clients depend on the neutrality and independence of assessors and can lose trust when offered promises that are misleading or “too good to be true”.

Fact:  Hospitals or clinics tempted by these extra services are very likely to be disappointed. Reputable accreditation companies are not designed to provide other services and it is likely that these will be hollow offers with little or no value to an organisation.

Myth #5: We are already doing things well and do not need accreditation because we have always done it this way.

Myth: Our hospital or clinic is already doing great and are succeeding doing what we are doing. We have always done it this way. We don’t need to change. Accreditation won’t help us.

Fact: Healthcare services around the world are changing and evolving quickly. It is challenging to keep up with the daily demands of managing a hospital or clinic. It is the role of accreditation organisations to monitor clinical research, keep informed of new best practices, evolving trends, availability of new technology, and other aspects of the delivery of the best possible healthcare and patient services. Smart healthcare providers rely on a long-term relationship with a trusted accreditation partner to fulfill these tasks on behalf of their clients.

Fact: There is always room for improvement that can bring a variety of benefits to a healthcare organisation, including happier and healthier patients, engaged staff, improved revenues, and an enhanced reputation. If a hospital or clinic is already known for its excellence, chances are it is interested in continuing the pursuit of improving its clinical and nonclinical services. Accreditation can accelerate that process, often resulting in a stronger competitive edge.

The biggest obstacle on the road to excellence is the mindset of “We have always done it this way”.  If you are standing still, then you are being left behind.

Author : Elizabeth Ziemba, JD, MPH is Regional Representative for Temos Accreditation and President of Medical Tourism Training, Inc.

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