Certifying care in the Polish medical tourism industry

 

There is an ongoing discussion about the need for certification in medical tourism. For more than a decade, foreign nationals have been benefiting from medical services and healthcare in Poland. Dental care, dental implants and plastic surgery are the prime reasons that people travel to Poland for treatment. In recent years, more services have been offered to international patients by Polish ophthalmologists, bariatric specialists, orthopaedic surgeons and laser eye clinics.

These services are mostly available in private clinics and medical offices which are thriving due to the entrepreneurial skills of their owners. They are equipped with the latest equipment; they employ highly qualified staff; and they continuously improve their skills through participation in training and courses outside Poland.  ISO quality standards are common.

However, there are many clinics and medical offices run by doctors who are just beginning to learn the art of good management. They are very well known locally but attract very few foreign patients. These clinics have the right equipment, qualified staff and smart offices located in major cities; but they do not have the knowledge of how to combine all these elements in order to increase the flow of medical tourists.

One reason for their failure to attract foreign patients is the fact that these clinics work independently and are detached from the state tourism organisations and local government offices. Some of them create websites in an attempt to attract foreign patients, establish cooperation with facilitators and travel agencies and often regard their customer database as a major asset. Their self-marketing efforts frequently have no strategy and consequence.

The Polish approach

In a country such as Poland where there is no entity (private or government) that provides guidance, training and certification to those interested in providing international medical services, the Polish Association of Medical Tourism provides a solution to their needs. PATM with its team of advisors (doctors, marketing specialists and operators already taking care of foreign nationals in Poland and abroad) has the knowledge and experience necessary to assess and certify the practical aspects of handling foreign patient. PATM considers areas such as:

  •     Are the staff aware of cultural and religious diversity (with special attention given to the seemingly trivial problems arising from British, American, and Canadian English language differences). The use of medical jargon by the staff members can sometimes lead to misinformation and misinterpretation adversely affecting patient’s health.
  •     Is the clinic/medical office able to provide a constructive and quick response to patient questions? Is there a reliable intermediary, acting on the clinic’s behalf, to handle this?
  •     How is medical information communicated to patients? It may depend whether the person providing advice is a doctor. Much greater attention is paid to treatment information provided by a medical professional than by a non-medic. However, there are many questions of a technical and practical nature that do not need to be answered by doctors.
  •     Is the clinic/medical office web site well constructed and informative?
  •     What is the clinic’s approach to after care?

There are some vital issues in medical tourism that need addressing, but most important is the flow of information between a patient and a clinic, and access to reliable information about the clinic.

Medical tourism certification is an ideal tool for identifying good, reliable and professionally run clinics and services. Certification is a signpost for patients who otherwise might get lost in the jungle of internet advertising and promotion. For several months, PAMT has been promoting some certified medical tourism providers through its web site, Treatment in Poland.

What’s next after certification?

Medical tourism services consist of many complex human interactions. So, customer care has to be personalised taking into consideration age, sex, nationality, religious beliefs, distance from home, the type of surgery and the duration of stay in the medical tourism destination.

The expectations of patients who seek healthcare services such as dental treatment “across the border” in a neighbouring country may be very different from patients deciding to go for orthopaedic surgery in another country and who require follow-up in the form of rehabilitation and rest in a sanatorium on the Baltic coast.

The important factor in refining the quality of a tourism product is the ability to distinguish the difference between “expected product quality” and “experienced product quality” (1)

Expected product quality forms in the mind of a potential buyer and is influenced by many factors such as: personal needs, past experiences, opinions of other buyers, the image of improved beauty after the plastic surgery.

For patients, subjectively and objectively, the quality of medical service depends on the skills of doctors, nurses, medical and support staff (pharmacy, therapists, kitchen, laundry and other services), starting from the process of diagnosis and treatment through to the recovery and improvement after leaving the hospital or clinic.(2)

The quality of the medical tourism product is inextricably linked to the quality of service experienced by a foreign tourist on a single medical or tourist visit in a country. The functional nature of the product in medical tourism is related to the quality of consumer (medical tourist) contacts with the producers/providers of goods and services. It is they who are able to offer a quality product using the appropriate procedures, technology and customer service skills.

Consequently one of the goals of certification and training is to improve the quality of service. Competition among medical service providers will eventually reduce or completely eliminate the gap that results from misunderstandings and lead to greater patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, not everything is so simple and easy to achieve... if customer service training is provided only for a few staff members and not the whole team; if the newly employed staff member remains stuck in their old habits and attitudes towards patients, then it is impossible to offer an outstanding service to foreign nationals.

It is important that the principles of TQM for medical tourism, developed by PATM are adopted and applied by all staff at a clinic or medical office. Our motto is “a good team is a conscious and committed team”.

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