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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Medical Travel Market Will Be Worth US $9 BN

The global medical tourism market will be worth US$54 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13% until 2025. India’s medical tourism market will be worth US$9 billion in 2020 and is the fifth largest medical tourism market out of 41 destinations.

These are the conclusions of India: Building Best Practices in Healthcare Services Globally 2019 by consultants Ernst & Young (EY India) for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

As healthcare becomes more expensive in developed countries, India’s medical tourism market is expanding. The key drivers of growth are affordability and accessibility of good healthcare services, availability of the latest medical technologies and accreditations, and minimal waiting time.

The report repeats a common claim that medical tourists can save up to 50% of the costs of healthcare in the USA.  TTEM’s analysis suggests however that the percentage of medical tourists travelling from the USA to India as less than 0.01%. Most medical travellers going to India are from Asia and Africa.

Key Indian city destinations

Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata are the preferred destination cities for medical travellers arriving in India. 27% of India’s medical tourists head to Maharashtra, out of which 80% go to Mumbai. Chennai attracts 15% of incoming foreign patients while Kerala has 5-7%.

Bangladesh 221,751
Afghanistan 55,681
Iraq 47,640
Maldives 45,355
Oman 28,157

Source Markets of Medical Travellers to India

According to the report, based on figures from 2014 to 2017, major source markets for India is the South-East Asian countries, the Middle East, Africa and SAARC countries. More than 50% of medical tourists are from Bangladesh. The report repeats the Ministry of Tourism 2017 figures:

TTEMS’s analysis challenges the number of medical travellers from the Maldives of 45,355; as the total population of the Maldives is only 530,000 people this is disproportionately high.

The number of medical tourists on medical visas has increased from just over 10,000 in 2014 to around 480,000 in 2017. The Indian government estimates total medical tourism numbers for 2017 at just fewer than 500,000, and is expecting this amount to increase in future years.

The report says that there are 38 hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI) and 643 accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH).

Key market growth risks for India

The report warns that there is a need to improve on post-operative care in terms of environment, hygiene and precautions required after a patient is operated on. India is also behind many countries on healthcare regulation; there is little to stop unaccredited hospitals, clinics or medical tourism agents from staying in business and attracting medical tourists. There is also a lack of regulation of the Indian medical tourism industry, and this lack of regulation could impede growth.

The Indian national government is criticised for its lack of support for medical tourism, particularly at government-to-government level between India and patient source countries.  Too much is left to individual hospitals. There is also no grievance or redress mechanism in place for international patients to raise  complaints. There is no policy arrangement in place to insure patients in case of unexpected complications in treatment.

Of the findings in the report, Gaurav Taneja at EY India says: “Government must form institutions for regulation and implementation of medical tourism. There is a need to build a robust platform for patients to interact with different stakeholders of the industry and define a code of conduct for medical tourism business.

With a branding and marketing campaign ‘Heal in India,’ I am sure the country will elevate its existing position in rank among the most preferred destinations.”

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First of its Kind in the World: Sitting at the Distance of 32 KMs, Gujarat Surgeon Mends Woman’s Heart

History was made by Dr. Tejas Patel, a senior cardiologist who has performed more than 300 robotic surgeries so far, when he took his seat behind a console at the Swaminarayan Temple in Gandhinagar to perform an angioplasty on a middle-aged woman. The patient was in the operating theatre of Apex Hospital, some 32 KM away from the temple, and was operated through the world’s first in-human telerobotic coronary intervention.

The woman had suffered a heart attack and underwent angioplasty to remove a blockage in an artery a few days ago. On 6th Dec, blockage in another blood vessel was removed through robotic procedure. This heart procedure was carried out by an internet-enabled robotic arm at the cath-lab in the operation theatre of hospital and team of doctors was attending the patient to take care of any eventualities.

Mark Toland, CEO of US-based Company that provided technology for the surgery, said the first telerobotic surgery was performed in 2001 when laparoscopic gallbladder procedure was performed from across Atlantic. He added, “This was the first ever minimal invasive catheter-based heart procedure in the world. With such technology, the expertise of surgeon such as Dr. Patel can be transferred within seconds to patients”.

Source : Times of India

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Five Factors to Consider before Foreign Investments in Medical Tourism

In recent times, millions of patients have been traveling from home countries to other destinations to seek health care. In 2017, for example, an estimate of 1,400,000 Americans was noted to have traveled out of the country for health purposes, with approximately 16 million international patients worldwide.

Top procedures medical tourists travel for include cosmetic surgery, dental care, cardiac surgical procedures, cancer care, and orthopedic procedures. Countries at the forefront of medical tourism today include Asian countries including UAE, India, Thailand, and Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as European countries including Turkey and Hungary. The drivers for this cross-border healthcare are the affordability and quality of care in the destination country, and access to exotic trips and a congenial ambiance during the travel period.

The medical tourism market has recorded tremendous growth over the last few years, as countries are starting to expand their healthcare systems and investments are being channeled into technology advancements and healthcare infrastructure developments to attract international patients.

Some of these investments are made by independent foreign companies and government of other countries. Investments channeled into establishing or funding healthcare facilities equipped for international medical tourists, provision of hotel services which will partner with these hospitals, investing in the country’s medical equipment and technology manufacturing industry, and investment in the airline industry for transport of the massive inflow of medical tourists into a nation.

With investments come risks, and the considerable investment needed to facilitate success in the medical tourism industry requires that stakeholders do thorough research in two key areas – the services to provided by the proposed investment project and the viability of the destination site for the investment. Experts recommend considering the following factors in assessing the appropriateness of a medical tourist destination before investing.

Safety

International patients will rarely visit a country for medical treatment if there are reports of political unrest or social upheavals in the country or if such visits will pose a threat to their personal security. Investors, therefore, should seek adequate consultations regarding the security risks and trends in the destination.

Investors are also advised to check the destination sites for adherence to the CPTED principles of environmental design and national surveillance strategies. Destinations with CPTED-compliant urban environment and building planners are associated with low-security risks and are suitable for investments in health tourism.

Reception at the Project Destination

Having the government and locals of a potential destination site support the project is a very vital factor in deciding to invest. Some undeveloped destinations may establish special economic zones (SEZs) which may offer investors duty-free import of building materials, medical equipment, and furniture, as well as offer tax incentives.

A medical tourism project should be beneficial to the community members and must ensure environmental sustenance. The project, during construction and full operation, must provide job opportunities for members of the local community, and must provide useful healthcare services for locals as it does for international travelers.

If the project doesn’t provide benefits to the community and has negative impacts on environmental preservation, the public may regard such projects as against their interests and the community members may retaliate by being inhospitable to foreigners and medical travelers which, in turn, will reduce the attractiveness of the destination.

Supportive Regulations

In the face of unsupportive legislation and government regulations, health tourism projects will not thrive. In countries with weak regulations for medical tourism, the market may be flooded with unregulated and rogue competitors which will damage the medical tourism brand and reputation for all stakeholders in that country.

In a country with poor policies and standards regarding healthcare and health tourism, and an inadequate framework for health tourism, health tourism investments have a high risk of failure. The proposed destination country must have strict active legislation on handling legal matters regarding international healthcare, fraud, and safety and pricing violations, for it to be regarded as appropriate for investments.

Investors should also ensure that there are laws regarding health informatics and health records systems in the destination country. In the same vein, legislation over telemedicine, physician mobility, and medical records transfer to patients’ home countries should be well noted.

The Right Equipment

Providing healthcare services for health tourists is beyond delivering beds and surgical equipment, it involves tailoring healthcare infrastructure and hotel inventory to the specific needs of the target patient.

For example, investing in carpeted floors during construction of a project may pose risks and challenges of the target patient are those with neurological or orthopedic disorders who may be using walkers or crutches, and who may be on wheelchairs.

Hotel facilities should suit the type of patients targeted. A facility which aims to attract obese patients for bariatric surgery must partner with a hotel that provides rooms with sturdy furniture and bed for such patients. Additionally, patients who undergo breast cancer surgery are not advised to sleep in a bed for a few days after surgery, therefore, a facility intending to specialize in breast cancer surgery must provide accommodation that has recliners in the room for the patient to sleep on during the early recovery period.

Marketing

Investing and establishing the health tourism project is one step, the other is the communication strategies to seize the target market. These strategies should include useful language translation and leveraging technology through website development and a strong social media presence.

An effective marketing strategy must center on amplifying the brand as a destination and not just a clinic, to appeal to the international community presenting it as a health tourist brand. This requires an active collaboration with local and national tourism boards, the Ministry of Tourism, and chambers of commerce. If these agencies do not provide adequate support and brand amplification, the project may fail.

These factors are essential in building a viable health tourist brand and securing a good return on investment for every investor. The health tourism industry is a growing and delicate market and factors leading to success in the business are multifaceted. A careful examination of the key areas, including the viability of the project in the destination site, operational logistics, and effective marketing and communication will guide investors on the right path to success.

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Hepatitis C Treatment in India : A Fraction of the Cost

For years India has been recognized in the “medical travel world” as a destination to obtain quality care at much lower rates, compared to other countries around the world. Now, in addition to low cost procedures, the highly sought after cure for hepatitis C can be obtained in India for a fraction of the cost elsewhere, boosting India’s attractiveness for medical travel.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 130-150 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C and 700,000 people die each year from hepatitis C related liver diseases.

While hepatitis C does not always require treatment, as some people are able to clear the disease on their own, in many cases treatment is essential to avoid the number of complications resulting from the infection.

The proven, most effective and efficient treatment derives from the drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni. In most countries around the world these drugs are prohibitively expensive and many simply cannot afford to pay the cost. In the U.S. the treatment regimen can cost $84,000 USD or more and insurance companies do not usually cover the costs until the patient has already developed severe complications.

Hepatitis C Treatment in India

In April, Indian drug manufacturing companies received a patent for producing the generic versions of Sovaldi and Harvoni. The generic version of these drugs are available in cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai at the cost of Rs 70,000 or around $1,000 USD, for the entire treatment regimen.

With the recent availability of these drugs, patients are flocking to India from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Middle East, Yemen and Iraq.

Dr. Vidyasagar Ramappa, consultant gastroenterologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, reported that approximately 40 percent of the patients he treats for hepatitis C are from outside India. Dr. Nikhil Bondare, another gastroenterologist from Narayana Health City, reported that he treats at least two new hepatitis C patients from abroad every day.

Due to the availability of this low-cost alternative for those afflicted with hepatitis C, these cities in India will likely begin to attract a substantial increase in patients travelling from countries throughout the world.

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