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Is there more noise from the industry than enthusiasm from the market?

blowing trumpet

Constantine Constantinides from healthcare Cybernetics raises concerns about the state of the medical tourism market and suggests that the medical tourism industry is too busy “blowing its own trumpet” to spend time on cultivating a sustainable market. It’s time for the industry to move on says Dr Constantinides.

 

Making the bottom line the top line

One of the shortcomings of the medical tourism industry is that many players are concentrating on developing and promoting the industry (and their business) rather than cultivating and developing the market. What is being done to broaden medical tourism, increase its attractiveness and ultimately to increase its popularity?

The medical tourism industry “Associations” claim that their role is to protect and lobby for the interests of their members – and even to promote individual members within the market. But much of what we hear from them and the individual members is “come to me - I am better and cheaper”.

This creates confusion, mistrust, and does little to develop the market.

The way to cultivate (and expand) the market is through a coherent and convincing “disinterested” message that says:

“Health tourism (or medical tourism if you prefer) is a diverse (in terms of purpose and choice), credible, reliable and trustworthy industry.”

But, we need to provide the evidence for this. We must ensure that more people feel that they too can and want to be health or medical tourists or travellers if the industry is to develop and grow.

Existing industry representative bodies (for the most part, in the form of  “Associations”)  that are one day extolling the virtues of one destination and the next day lavishly showcasing the peerless offerings of another, do not best serve the interests of the industry as a whole. Imagine the uproar if a professional association in healthcare promoted one group of its members one week and a completely different (and competing) group of members the next.

Promotion of a specific member, product or service (in the case of medical tourism, a destination) is not the role of an industry association; this is the role of the destinations themselves, or their agents or the facilities and services that make the destination attractive.

Market cultivation is all about promoting the concept of medical tourism, and making it more attractive to as broad a market as possible, rather than promoting specific providers and destinations.

If the existing associations do not adopt this role, then another body needs to step in and fill the gap.

 

Time to move on

The industry needs to move forward. It has created a great deal of noise without creating enthusiasm in the marketplace. The industry has been driven by internally generated “ triumphalism”and more recently, bravado (in the face of a worldwide recession), but has seen very little new enthusiasm from the market. Many devote time, effort and money to “convert” prospects to customers, but this is not the same as “cultivating” the market. 

The market has not been growing as fast as many have predicted (or they hoped) and it is not just a matter of the impact of the recession. Lack of underlying market growth has to be a concern, and one that the industry needs to urgently address.

 

Do we need more legislation, regulation and standards?

Contrary to the hysteria of some who want to say something (and have very little to say), the health tourism industry does not need additional legislation, regulation or standards.

Each of the eight health-related tourism segments, including medical tourism, already has standards. And health tourism is not a melting pot. Each segment wants to and is entitled to retain its unique identity and independence.

Where  perhaps there is no objection to the introduction of legislation, regulation and standards is to the role of the medical facilitator or medical travel agency,  which is relatively new (although some, mainly in Europe, will quite correctly point out, it is anything but new).

Whether it is new or not, the fact remains that the facilitation role has developed with little coherence and without the framework and extensive regulation that surrounds the traditional travel and tourism agency sector.

 

Comment

 

Profile of Dr Constantine Constantinides

Dr Constantine Constantinides

Dr Constantine Constantinides runs healthcare Cybernetics, a “think and do” tank that specializes in medical tourism and healthcare consultancy and planning. He lives on the island of Samos in Greece.

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Comments provided below do not represent the views of IMTJ. Comments will be published "as is" and will not be edited by IMTJ staff. IMTJ is hosting these comments, and is not  undertaking an editorial role in the content of these comments. However, it is editorial policy not to publish comments which have been submitted anonymously.

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Dr. Constantine, you have come out with a very good and valid article. Congratulations!

Dr. Premhar Shah (03/03/2010 11:16:55)

Dr. Constantinides points raised by you are very valid. Not just the individual businesses busy in just self promotion even the associations are doing just that. Even though they claim to be Non-Profit organisation all the do is promote n market few of there own members.

Vikram Singh Rana (02/03/2010 13:15:47)

Congratulations Dr. Constantinides for a point very well made. The lack of growth, its reasons lying beyond those linked to the recession, promotion of business as opposed to contribution to the market, the associations falling short of aiming for a higher purpose than commercial viability – even as they live in a not-for-profit scaffolding – are all factors that have proven to be an impediment.

The role of the facilitator however – caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – is a thankless one. On the one hand, patients suspect that they can get a better deal if the were to go direct to the hospitals and hospitals feel they can live without this entity that wants to scrounge off them.

Without getting into the whys and wherefores of a facilitators raison d'être, let me only suggest – in keeping with the thrust of Dr. Constantinides observations – that the facilitator must only exist as an extension of the service provider if they are to live up to the role of lending credence to the offering (read market if every service provider does so). Let me also say in the same breath that a facilitator cannot be seen as representing two competing entities any more than an association may be seen as promoting more than one destination as the best; it's just not right!

Zahid Hamid (02/03/2010 11:30:01)

Very interesting article, needless to say that the good doctor is right on the money. However, creating awareness globally is not easy, marketing this is difficult since we, a facilitator, need to deal with hospitals with no clue on how to market this, except for 1 or 2 players, so little or no support there. The hospitals have been lucky, they had patients simply walk in, that resource is drying up, the results are already showing!

You know, I would love to, (instead of another 25 JCI accreditations) see some of these hospitals spend their dollars on marketing professionals than on accreditation, now this would really assist in getting the message out there!

Or maybe it is just me..

JP Bos (02/03/2010 09:58:46)

Your words are right on the money!

Shai Gold (01/03/2010 14:16:36)