Medical Tourism: Five Lessons Learned

Originally published on SaludPanama.com by Luis Santamaría

There are a couple of words that powerfully activate the creativity, imagination and commercial intentions of millions of managers of the "health" market in the Spanish-speaking world. This is the phrase "Medical Tourism", on which large monetary amounts have been invested over the last two decades, and entire companies have been created under the premise "Build it and they will come." However, the results of this "gold rush" of Medical Tourism are rarely even visible, and meanwhile private investors and country officials continue to react in the same way with the mere mention of the concept.

The most interesting thing about this case is that probably the cause of the failure of most initiatives in Medical Tourism, unlike the more visible results in Health and Wellness Tourism, is due to the lack of understanding about what the Medical Tourism really is. For this reason, I share with you some important points that I believe can help you understand a little better what it is about, what it is for and how to get involved in it. Medical tourism, without losing faith in the attempt. 

Medical Tourism is not Tourism

More than 10 years ago, medical professionals, hospital entrepreneurs and even transporters were heard focusing on providing luxurious experiences to medical tourists, since they came from more developed countries, often with cash budgets that were paid directly to the institution or doctor. Visits to patient events I attended (mainly in the United States) revealed a reality very different from local expectations. Patients decided to travel under great economic pressure. Even worse than the physical reality of each potential patient we met during our travels was their psychological and emotional reality. The perception of patients at all times was to obtain services at the lowest cost, at all costs. This meant selecting extremely low-budget accommodations that often bordered on being inadequate for the purpose of the trip, and eliminating any small details that could represent a bad investment of the dollar. This affects the traveler during their experience even on occasions when local providers offer small "extra" details that can be interpreted as "tricks" to raise the cost. The more austere, the more efficient Medical Tourism is for the parties involved and especially for the emotional health of travelers. In addition, austerity also increases the credibility of the offer. The reality is that if they have already chosen us and trusted us to offer a medical service overseas, we do not need glasses decorated with umbrellas to offer a good service. Sorry, but again, I'm on hold of complimentary margaritas until they make sense.

Without state investment there is no medical tourism = False

In the search (unnecessary, in my opinion) for state financing, Medical Tourism investors often promise the aforementioned "Economic Spillover", suggesting that patients who travel to the town will also consume services from other players in the market, and THEREFORE, THE STATE SHOULD SUBSIDY, STIMULATE, FINANCE, OR IN GENERAL INVEST MONEY IN ITS COMPANIES to stimulate the development of the service. However, this has not worked anywhere, and you should put a microscope on anyone who tells you otherwise. One of my most impressive experiences was during my participation as a speaker at the World Health Congress in Washington, DC, in 2018. There I had the opportunity to enjoy a very, very good coffee, at the promotional stand of a certain Central American country whose identity I will keep private, in the exhibition area of ​​the event. A beautiful "booth" of about 60 square meters, populated by at least 7 market representatives. The site quickly became the cafeteria for the event, and I found the disproportion of costs vs. benefit that this stand represented for the taxpayer in that country. Although each offer presented at the booth was more impressive and full of benefits than the last, and generally represented an excellent participation in the event, the fact is that this booth, which according to its occupants had been financed with funds from the state as a "stimulus" for the industry, represented an absolute waste of resources, and would have the effect of a drop poured into the center of the ocean, in the task of turning their country into a credible and recognizable destination in the industry. travel for health reasons. This example is one of many that you can see in person at many events and fairs.

The essential need for state investment so that a Medical Tourism destination can develop at a private level is a myth. The costs required by this type of investment are perfectly affordable for any private industry, and in fact, given that it is a business investment, it is justified that the direct beneficiaries of these businesses are the investors. That said, of course state support is welcome, but stating that "we have not made progress because the government has not provided us with stimulus" is a big lie. Read this again and if you wish, accompany the reading with a margarita. 

A single seagull does not make a market

A patient, who needs a diagnosis from a doctor, can travel to a destination, be referred by that individual doctor to a hospital, and successfully receive a procedure. Are we facing a case of Medical Tourism in this statement? Well yes, but no. Medical Tourism as an industry is defined in much broader and more complex terms than the visit of a single patient to a single hospital. This industry depends and develops largely based on its reputation, and results that require macroeconomic samples. Therefore, the commercial profits of a market player, for example a hospital or surgical center, will be directly proportional to those of its local competitors. In this way, the cause of achieving one's own commercial success implies the cause of achieving the commercial success of competitors. Every small moment of glory in a company is a triumph for the market, and for this reason all intentions must be aligned, and reputation management, brand management, marketing, advertising and commercial targets will work exponentially better if they are also aligned. . In Medical Tourism, the market brand is everyone's brand, and the slightest mistake or failure contains the potential to cause the same level of damage to all market participants. The most advisable thing then is to have an organization that allows unifying efforts and optimizing resources, serving as a support point for everyone's leverage, and that controls where, when and why, the margaritas are served. 

Your best promo is your own market

Without intending to repeat previous points, it is important to emphasize that Medical Tourism behaves, at a marketing level, like a snowball. For both good and bad, the spread of a reputation as a provider of medical services to international patients can have unexpected and exponential effects. After that, the reality is that The best way to shine in the world of Medical Tourism is to SHINE AT HOME. How do we sell an image of quality, success, excellence and satisfaction to a patient who reads on blogs and social networks about the terrible service we offer to the local population? This is when adequate public relations and local marketing management, certifications that promise committed quality management and, above all, genuine commitment to the experience of each of the patients who visit our institutions, become frank marketing initiatives. It will be much easier for anyone to decide on a medical trip to a destination that is promoted precisely by its people, and this is achieved with commercial leadership, definitely not with daisies. 

Always aspire for more

Not having the most developed center of excellence with the highest budget and sales successes on day 1 is a sign that our work and commitment are truly important. Needless to say, great achievements in the healthcare sector take time. We recently celebrated 10 years of Robotic Surgery in Panama, and the impact of that investment expands far beyond what it seemed like robotics would be in our country at that time. The learning curves were completed, and the cases were treated with the robot. But we also became a center of medical, academic and commercial excellence. Today we train robotics specialists from other countries, and the work has brought progress and science to the region. Medical Tourism is not just about getting more cases and increasing profits. We are part of a global community with global needs, and offering quality Medical Tourism, with scientifically assembled service packages, with leadership and quality ahead, is fulfilling our role as creators of the future, and of opportunities for future generations. No matter how small your professional practice, hospital, outpatient center, dental clinic, or any service you provide in this industry, aspire to more.

Would you like to discuss this topic a little more? Connect with us on LinkedIn, tap this link. 

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