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Home > Blog > 2011 > Why the medical tourism industry must do better...much better


Why the medical tourism industry must do better...much better

Customer survey

Whilst the medical tourism industry continues to sing its own praises and tell itself how great it is.... consumers are telling a different story. The 2011 Medical Tourism Survey being conducted by European Research Specialists on behalf of Treatment Abroad raises some concerns about the quality of treatment and customer service that the industry delivers to patients.

As results of the latest Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011 come in, we’re beginning to get an idea of how patients view the medical tourism experience. So far, we’ve managed to generate 860 responses to the survey from patients who went to more than 60 countries.  Each respondent completes a fairly detailed online survey that takes them around 5-10 minutes. The results are being analysed by an external research market researcher. (Find out more about the Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011). The aim is to generate over 1,000 survey completions to provide valuable insight into the medical tourism experience.

We’ll be releasing the full results and report in 2012, but I have taken a look at the “story so far” provided by the research. The bad news is that since the previous survey was conducted two years ago, the industry hasn’t got any better at what it does. Initial analysis, suggests that it has got worse. Patient satisfaction levels are down. When asked:

  • “How satisfied are you OVERALL with your experience of going to another country for treatment?”

...only 65% of the patients say that they are “Very Satisfied”, and 20% say they are “Quite Satisfied”.

These results are disappointing; they are well below what you see when you research satisfaction levels for patients visiting private hospitals and clinics in their own countries.

For me, the main concern is that 15% of patients were dissatisfied with their experience. According to research, a dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about it. And approximately 13% of your dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their problem. (Source: the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC.)

On average, dissatisfied customers, tend to tell four times as many people of their experience compared to satisfied customers. So, let’s do the Maths.....

100 patients go abroad for treatment in a foreign country....

  • 85 have a good or OK experience. Each one tells another three people about their good experience. 85 x 3 = 255 people hear how great medical tourism is.
  • 15 have a bad experience. Each one tells another twelve people about their bad experience. 15 x 12 = 180 people hear how bad medical tourism is.

So, overall.....the “reputation” of medical tourism is enhanced.... but am I impressed? No.

A 65% “Very Satisfied” rating for the medical tourism experience just isn’t good enough. If the industry really wants to establish its credibility it has do much better at delivering outstanding treatment quality and customer service for international patients. If it does not fix the problem, it will make little progress and will continue to be a Cinderella industry.

Why are people dissatisfied with the medical tourism experience?

Here are three verbatim comments from dissatisfied patients from the research:

“Complete and utter failure. Just money grabbing attitude. Lots of lies. They risked my life for sake of a few pennies and gave me misleading information.”

UK patient, cosmetic surgery in the Czech Republic

“The clinic I went to made no effort at all for Western patients. Communication was very poor, the patient coordinator was nowhere to be found. Whilst I was in Cyprus, no information was given, no paperwork in evidence that I could see, and absolutely no attempt was made to make me feel important/relaxed/reassured.”

UAE patient, infertility treatment in Cyprus

“I don't even know where to begin with regard to the incompetence that I endured. Never again! I will now pay whatever it costs to get the best treatment.”

Swedish patient, dental treatment in Hungary

You can be certain that these three patients told lots of people about their experience. Now... I’m sure that there will be lots of hospitals and clinics reading this and saying... “This would never happen in my hospital/clinic.”

The problem is that it does. For far too long, the industry in general has been closing its mind to any possible shortcomings. The press and TV stories about “medical tourism gone wrong” are just scaremongering by self interested domestic healthcare providers.....is the medical tourism party line.

A negative patient experience..."it can’t be true"

When something goes wrong or a patient isn’t happy, the usual response from providers is to ignore the negative feedback, or deny that anything has gone wrong.  A good example of this is the Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews service that we run. We get lots of positive reviews of healthcare providers.... and we get some negative reviews of healthcare providers. If we get a negative review we contact the provider, confirm that the patient is a real patient (and not a competitor writing a fake review), and offer them the opportunity to comment on the review and post a response. The fairly typical response is to demand that the negative review be removed, and claim that the patient has made everything up. The truth is that patients don’t write negative reviews of healthcare providers unless they are unhappy and the experience hasn’t met their expectations.  Too few healthcare providers acknowledge negative feedback, learn from where they have gone wrong and improve the service for future patients.

Fixing the problem

There’s a long way to go. The Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011 will provide some insight into what needs fixing. But it isn’t rocket science. The industry as a whole and individual healthcare providers need to give much more attention to the quality of treatment and service that they are providing and much less to self promotion. No industry can have a hope of long term success if it fails to get its basic product right and the product doesn’t deliver to consumer’s expectations.

So, let’s get the industry focus back on the patient and get more patients telling the story of their outstanding medical travel experience.


Date published: 9 December 2011


Comments

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. However, it is editorial policy to publish comments that have been submitted anonymously. 

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About me

Keith Pollard

Keith Pollard

I am CEO of Intuition Communication Ltd, a web publishing business in the healthcare sector. Our sites include International Medical Travel Journal, Treatment Abroad, the medical tourism portal, DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal and Private Healthcare UK, the UK's leading site for private healthcare services. I am a regular speaker and commentator on medical tourism and the independent healthcare sector.

Use the comment submission form below
Medicine is a demanding sector of customer service. And surely it is for the best!

Quality, respect and individual approach are the main things needed to be excellent at what you are doing. Of course slight misunderstandings occur in everyday life, but it is about the way you tackle each and every problem, how you talk to your patients how you explain the situations. It is about the relationship between you and your client.

It is not only about the money and how many patients you have during the day - it's about HOW you work. Setting up 'excellency' as a personal goal for you and your team at the clinic also leads to fantastic results! Then you don't have to speak about yourself and tell everyone how good you are - your patients do it for you. And that is the thing that makes you happy at the end of the day and that keeps you going all the time

Good luck!

Vita Vagnere - Grinberga
Medical Marketing Specialist
Premium Medical Clinic
Riga, Latvia
http://www.premiummedical.travel/

Vita Vagnere - Grinberga (20/03/2012 11:04:42)

Medicine is a demanding sector of customer service. And surely it is for the best!

Quality, respect and individual approach are the main things needed to be excellent at what you are doing. Of course slight misunderstandings occur in everyday life, but it is about the way you tackle each and every problem, how you talk to your patients how you explain the situations. It is about the relationship between you and your client.

It is not only about the money and how many patients you have during the day - it's about HOW you work. Setting up 'excellency' as a personal goal for you and your team at the clinic also leads to fantastic results! Then you don't have to speak about yourself and tell everyone how good you are - your patients do it for you. And that is the thing that makes you happy at the end of the day and that keeps you going all the time

Good luck!

Vita Vagnere - Grinberga
Medical Marketing Specialist
Premium Medical Clinic
Riga, Latvia
http://www.premiummedical.travel/

Vita Vagnere - Grinberga (20/03/2012 11:02:21)

As a nurse and medical writer, I know that independent and unbiased review is essential.. For the most part - the medical tourism industry is going about this wrong. Instead of marketing the surgeons that are the most media-savvy (and paying the medical travel companies) - medical travel companies should find out who the 'best' providers are at a given location and pitch their services to them. This would give an element of quality control which is sorely lacking at present.

I've interviewed hundreds of surgeons over the last two years, and observed in an equal number of operating rooms. Usually the best providers, facilities and services are not the ones with the most attractive websites, or best publicized names..

K. Eckland (13/01/2012 22:25:53)

nice guys you can share our information.....

Please visit http://indianhealthtoruism.co.in for further information...........

Pardeep sharma (30/12/2011 07:15:27)

Interesting interim results. I think the thing to remember is that the sector is not particularly mature and there are a lot of people around who still see medical tourism as a "get rich quick" scheme - with consideration of patient's needs coming (much?) further down the list of priorities. The choice of going abroad for treatment is not a simple one for patients and the sort of "hand-holding" that patients may need to negotiate systems and information - as well as during and after treatment - doesn't come cheap. I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the fact that in a well-functioning market it is survival of the fittest, so we can assume that the bad providers will eventually fall by the wayside (and hopefully they don't kill or maim anyone along the way). But it seems we are still some way from that. That said, a figure of effectively 85% as "very satisfied" or "quite satisfied" isn't *that* bad is it?

As for independent accreditation, the concern with this area of activity is that many hospitals and clinics may not necessarily be looking to accreditation as a way to improve themselves but instead see it as a quality badge that can help them with attracting business. There is also a need to ask whether the accreditation schemes themselves apply the standards competently and fairly in an incorruptible fashion? How can we (or more importantly, patients) be sure that accreditation has not been withdrawn or that an accreditation has not been achieved by a greasing of palms? And who independently assesses the independent assessors?

Rob Dickman (12/12/2011 10:25:56)

Independent surveying and accreditation, such as we at QHA Trent undertake, includes checking out not only the clinical standards but also ethics, probity and honesty in finance, advertising, pricing, billing etc. It sounds from this as though we are on to something! - although while people continue to access services from hospitals and clinics that have not been prepared to invest even a small amount of their profits in ensuring that what they have on offer is genuinely safe and fit for purpose should surely provide food for thought.

Please check us out at http://www.qha-international.co.uk before dismissing independent accreditation as an option for helping to improve the customer experience..

Steve Green (11/12/2011 16:15:38)

I am not surprised by these patient satisfaction revelations.


Health travel management is not for the untrained well meaning individual who has a website and a mobile hand phone. Many unsuspecting patients will be injured (or worse) by this. It has to improve.

But when I propose that we start offering training to those who are sincere, and begin to establish competency standards for the industry, I am told that nobody wants to entertain the idea or take the responsibility to begin to establish a framework for competency standards laid down by travel and medical professionals who grasp the gravity of it all.

What will it take to motivate the new entrants to the industry to want to advance their competency and domain knowledge?

Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO
Mercury Healthcare International, Inc.

Maria Todd MHA PhD (11/12/2011 04:49:06)

Steve
Not sure that I follow? Why would prominent professionals not recommend the countries visited by these three patients? These are just three comments out of hundreds in the research and are just being used as examples. There are many very positive comments about these three destinations. There will be bias in our research due to the sample source, as there will be with most research .... But probably less than in most medical tourism "research" that I have seen. The sample is sourced from people who have made enquiries through our various web sites, so it does have a bias towards UK patients (around half the sample) and European destinations.

Keith Pollard (10/12/2011 22:32:38)

Geez Keith......Based on the locations that the patients noted above travelled to, your "survey" is including the very providers that the most prominent professionals in our sector suggest patient NOT visit. You're sure to have slanted results. Is the statistical significance of your results going to be +/- 30%?

Steven Watkins (09/12/2011 18:37:37)