Medical Tourism The Missing Component

Christina deMoraes's picture
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I was forwarded an interesting article on Asia and Medical tourism.  It neatly listed the three components considered to be those of importance in the “emerging IPC” (International Patient Care) industry.  I was frustrated however, once again, to see a HUGE gap in the understanding of what components truly are necessary to help guarantee a SUCCESSFUL medical tourism (IPC) experience for the patient. 

 The three components the article lists are:

  1. The facilitator who basically recommends a doctor/hospital or clinic with whom he has acquired commission benefits or simply adds his 20+% on top… Oh and who also books travel and/or hotel accommodations. 
  2. The medical center or hospital with appropriate facilities and skilled medical doctors and…
  3. The 3rd component, is some kind of hospital accreditation, generally JCI . 

 The article (source: genengnews.com  (November 15, 2010) "Asia Emerging as Healthcare Destination") mentions that this kind of accreditation should be involved so the patient can “enjoy” and be assured of an experience that will at least be as good as our own standing in the US…  “Good” is however relative when you realize that JCI is the American standard of hospital ranking and we currently are in position #36 in the world, I believe.

 There is a hugely forgotten essential component which is always left out even though it accounts for probably 80% of the patient’s overall indication of satisfaction with their medical tourism experience…  It is what I have come to call the In-Country Medical Concierge and Support Services or simply, aftercare services. 

 The patient goes on the advice of a facilitator to a certain doctor and hospital/clinic who books his travel, collects his commission and sends the patient on his way.  Maybe they are picked up at the airport and taken to the initial consultation and hospital trips but once the patient is discharged, they are on their own in 90% of medical tourism experiences.

 You may choose the best doctor, the best hospital in the whole world for your procedures, regardless of the price you pay, but the patient is under this care for a VERY short period of time…  the period of time that they are IN THE HOSPITAL.  Once they are discharged to a 10x10 hotel room somewhere they are usually on their own for the next week or so, in pain or discomfort, filled with questions and concerns, with vulnerable open wounds and no one to care for them.  If they brought a friend or loved one for support, that person is usually not a nurse and cannot really provide anything other than some company in between their own desires to be a “tourist” while they are there even if the patient cannot be one. 

 This 7 to 14 day post op period is the time that most complications occur and also the time period that an ounce of prevention goes the furthest.  Unsterile wound care, incisions opening, improper eating, overexertion by the patient that leads to a seroma, excessive swelling, infection or worse…  all can quickly become serious complications that end up compromising results and satisfaction, costing the patient extra money on medications and treatments and even an extended stay to deal with the complication or perhaps even readmission to the hospital depending on the severity before it is hopefully caught by… someone.

 In operating my services IN the country of destination (not from a desk in Chicago or Miami!) and personally hand-holding my patients through the ENTIRE and most important processes, I realized the power of the post op support and care has over the actual outcome of the surgical procedure itself , the impact on their budget and the patient’s overall satisfaction with their international medical experience.  Doctors and hospitals are not used to nor are they prepared to provide the post op, in-country medical and social support the typical medical tourism patient needs.  And worse, they do not realize the damage to their own reputations that problems in the post op period cause them. 

 Let’s face it. We are NOT happy with the experience in our own hospitals and doctor offices. As much as we are looking for value and skill in going abroad, we are paying out of pocket and part of us demands to have a BETTER experience than an HMO would be satisfied with providing us.  Articles like this just show how little the corporate people understand the role of CUSTOMER SERVICE and genuine attention and concern is necessary in this medical experience.  This experience of medical tourism is a SERVICE industry and must be treated and approached as one or it will surely fail. 

 This is about the patient choosing what THEY want and I can tell you after all these years of being at their side…  they don’t want what they can get in the US.  They are PURCHASING A SERVICE, a whole experience… or at least that is what they should be getting!  Medical tourism allows them to turn their common American medical experience into a CONSUMER experience.  It is not just price.  It is value.  They are choosing to transform and better their life in some way.  Patients as Consumers  have a right to make sure they are cared for throughout the entire stay and their hard earned money provides them with a nurturing and safe experience, both for their body and their peace of mind. 

Stay tuned for my next blog:  Plastic Surgery in Costa Rica… Patients at Risk!