Does the industry always have to deal with dissatisfied customers?

 

To state the obvious, the medical-travel industry is a niche industry that gets far more attention and press than there are patients actually travelling. A lot of patients who travel electively or non-urgently are coming from places such as the UK, US or Canada. What is interesting about these locations is that they all have good healthcare, yet these patients are still travelling abroad. And they are doing so for different reasons. In the UK and Canada, healthcare is not prohibitively expensive, but there are long waits. In the US it is expensive. Both situations lead to medical travel. But who are these people? Are wealthy people going abroad? Only in a few cases where they believe they can get better treatment there. For the most part, the wealthy get treated at home, because they can afford it and it is more convenient. So the majority of medical travellers will be those with the means to pay, but it is a stretch.

Is it any wonder we worry about liability when we are welcoming patients who are already unhappy with their current medical system? They are dissastisified because with regards to treatment in their own country, either they can’t get in the queue, the queue is too long or they don’t like the doctor they meet at the end of the queue and they don’t want to start queuing again. Then there are those who are priced out of the market, or perhaps they want something the home country won’t offer on grounds of cost (for example, a person is offered a steel knee replacement but they want titanium, and the country they live in won’t pay for it).

These patients have very high expectations. They have done their research on the internet and now they have invested their own hard-earned currency, as well as a lot of time and emotion, into the process. Yet they have already set the bar unrealistically high, perhaps encouraged by their medical-travel agent, whoever that might be. And even if the operation goes well, who’s to say they will be satisfied. Let’s look at two possible scenarios.

No 1: a 60-year-old lady in Canada has a successful operation abroad. Six months later she is back hiking in the Canadian mountains, the knee is still painful, but she is grateful and willing to have her testimony posted on your website.

No 2: a 35-year old woman from the US goes abroad for a cosmetic procedure. Again, it is successful, yet she decides to sue the hospital. The reason for her unhappiness? Despite the success of the procedure, her husband will not come back to her.

Extreme examples, obviously, but if the medical-travel industry is to succeed, it needs to have arrangements in place with a network of doctors around the world. These physicians will see a patient before they ever get on the plane. They will fill out a standard form on the patient, get some routine blood tests, and create a dossier on the patient. The purpose of this would be twofold: on the one hand, it would ensure that the patient is approved physically for travel, and that the procedure is an appropriate one; but it would also ensure that the patient is mentally in the right place for that procedure. In other words, part of the check-up should be to establish a psychological profile of the patient.

Not only will this help eliminate inappropriate patients, it will aid the facility at the other end to impose some kind of parameters on the treatment: it will have a start date, and when the procedure has been completed and the person returns to their home country, they could be seen by one of these doctors who could impose an end date. This declaration by the physician of a conclusion to the medical episode would mean that any other follow-up visits to the doctor or even to the facility abroad would be a separate matter. Of course, this would not necessarily be effective with regard to liability. But at least it would help with billing.

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