Articles #1 | Medical Tourism Has Come Of Age As Trends Continue To Evolve

Sep 02 2018
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Articles #1 | Medical Tourism Has Come Of Age As Trends Continue To Evolve
Some of my articles on Medical tourism.

Late last year, we read news reports about doctors from Brenners Park Hotel & Spa, a high-end property owned by European luxury hotel group Oetker Collection from BadenBaden, Germany who were in the UAE, and the region, to build awareness about their medical facilities and clinical options on offer at their hotel. The roadshow saw the doctors visiting various locations across the GCC and the Middle East, highlighting their salient features in healthcare facilities. This was not a typical roadshow but one that focused on how
medical tourism can be aggressively tackled in the market. The roadshow achieved one major objective: it reinforced the fact that the medical tourism industry has evolved and is on an aggressive growth path. For the Oetker property in Germany, they look at the Middle East, and in particular the GCC, as an important market source for their hotel and healthcare facilities. So, it was a typical case of the well going to the thirsty – and this is where we see a paradigm shift. It is well-known that some markets have caught on to medical tourism, thanks to affordable and excellent medical facilities. These include
countries such as the UAE, India, Thailand and Latin America. One can say that the concept of medical travel is as old as medicine itself. Medical tourism history in fact dates back to ancient times when the effluent classes visited countries for their cosmetic procedures. However, things have become far more organised and focused in the last decade.

The sector has fast become a fully fledged business – with dedicated systems, processes, services, transparency, benchmarks and quality assurance taking precedence over the others. This is proof that medical tourism is fast evolving into a known industry and a trusted trend in healthcare. Today, there is an entire team of experts who coordinate the requirements of the medical tourists,right from their arrival – stay, food and logistics – and all the tourists need to do is reach the destination and undergo the medical processes without any hassle or delay. They also do not need to worry about appointments and waiting time for checks/ surgical requirements. So, why shouldn’t one resort to flying to another destination for major surgery if the whole process is seamless, relaxed, plus having the option to explore the destination – and importantly, cheaper on the wallet? Let me emphasize this through an example: The cost of total hip replacement costs about US$50,000 in the States, while a similar procedure is performed at US$10,000-15,000 in India or Thailand. Moreover, the current waiting time for this procedure ranges from six to 18 months in the U.S. while on the other hand medical tourists can book this procedure overnight with a highly competent doctor at a medical tourism destination like Thailand and India. The increasing price factor has also made
healthcare providers in the US and Canada check this important cause of patients and insurance providers preferring more overseas destinations than local. Overall, medical tourism has led U.S. healthcare providers to reduce their costs and provide better healthcare services in their own country. There are now many more competitor countries, hospitals and agencies than there were five years ago. Trading on low prices only, or expecting customers to pay a premium to come visiting for healthcare needs are now defunct strategies. People want high quality but a good price too. Medical tourism has to first persuade people to travel, and only then persuade them where to go. Hospitals just promoting their brand, totally misunderstand how sales and marketing work. Having said this, the medical costs and expenditures continue to rise as the medical tourism industry has seen doubledigit growth over the years. The hotspots in medical tourism – be it India, Malaysia, Thailand or the Middle Eastern countries – have all seen a steep rise in healthcare costs in the last five years, as they have found that medical tourism is a panacea for their burgeoning budgets.

“Medical tourism is fast evolving into a known industry and a trusted trend in healthcare”

The increased revenue from medical tourism is also being diverted into developing the healthcare facilities and related benefits to the tourists. Thailand is a prominent example in this direction, boasting world-class medical facilities with the best medical technologies and equipment, all accredited with JCI standards. The same holds true for India, Malaysia and other regional countries who have found money from medical tourism patients to pay for improving the facilities and quality of care provided. But we can all very well understand that improving the standard of medical care in the private sector in any country is an important area of development, and medical tourism has really spurred this in Latin American countries such as Columbia, Mexico and Brazil, and also in Asian countries. It is all because of the additional revenue pouring in from the medical tourism sector that the latest robotic surgeries and the best healthcare facilities are now available in most big cities across all these countries. This has not only benefited the tourists, but also the local resident population. The new, world-class facilities and the best doctors
have given the local community the choice to avail the same, contrary to the past where they used to fly to developed countries for treatment. Another evolving important aspect of medical tourism is hospitals getting better by taking accreditations from international standardising bodies. It has also started revolutionising the trends of spending on the latest technologies in healthcare, IT-related solutions and improved web-based services.

Patient education standards have also improved, thanks to the medical tourism boom, and more and more emphasis is being put on keeping patients well informed of their illness and its management. This is a very important aspect to prevent litigation, which has marred the process of healthcare in the developed world because it has resulted in increasing costs. Empowering patients with education will result in better outcomes in disease prevention and progression and will also reduce complications, thus benefiting the implementation of more strict methods of this trend. Medical tourism has made it more important for healthcare providers to prevent litigation due to the lack of information
provided to patients. Insurance companies are not left behind in providing some innovations to the medical tourism industry and more and more customized and tailor-made packages are evolving. A leading American insurance provider has recently launched a plan for medical tourists from the US, which will give them some cover against complications of procedures once they are home after getting a procedure done overseas. The same goes for insurance companies providing a variety of contingency plans for medical tourists at overseas destinations. Increasing competition and changes in customer needs and behaviour mean that only the most professional hospitals, agencies and clinics will prosper. The days of sitting back and expecting customers to rush to you are gone forever. All business will be hard won, and many in the business will be found wanting and fall by the wayside. This is just the beginning of the evolution of medical tourism and we are yet to see some real examples of mass medical tourism either from, or at overseas destinations. Figures quoted by leading international business consultants are amazing and clearly tell of a big industry in the phase of evolution.

“The cost of a total hip replacement is about US$50,000 in the States, while a similar procedure is performed for US$10,000-15,000 in India or Thailand”

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