Just what is accreditation in medical tourism and does it help your business?

 

Much has been written about who in medical travel requires accreditation or certification. The process of individual certification and corporate accreditation has become a lucrative mini-industry within medical travel.

So far, the debate has been on whether or not to get accreditation or certification, but that is not enough. We need to consider who actually requires accreditation or certification, which organizations  who should be awarding the accreditation.

A means not an end

Many, but not all, of those selling accreditation/ certification services make it seem that without their label, you cannot be regarded as a serious player in the medical tourism sector. The implication is that once you buy into an accreditation system, agencies and medical travellers will suddenly see you as a “trustworthy” provider of services and care.

Sadly, there is little or no proof that the average medical traveller pays any attention to these accreditations, or indeed understands what they are.

This does not mean that accreditation is pointless. It just means that most hospitals and clinics are looking at it in the wrong way.

Hospitals and clinics regard the award as an end, and a guarantee that they will attract more medical travellers. But that is far from true.

A comparison can be made with having your car engine tuned. Accreditation just means that the basic running mechanism of a hospital or clinic is in good working order. But just like with the car, you still need a driver, a direction, a means of getting there and the bodywork.

Building on accreditation

So what is accreditation about? Accreditation is the first step in getting prepared for medical travellers. It does little to drive patients to your services the other factors.
A driver:

  •     Who decides where to go?
  •     Who decides how to get there?
  •     Who decides what to spend?

A direction:

  •     Which country?
  •     What price level?
  •     What type of customer?
  •     What service for what need?

The means:

  •     How to get customers?
  •     How to treat customers? Basic patient services or VIP luxury?
  •     How to measure success?

The bodywork:

  •     International patient centre?
  •     Language skills?
  •     Cuisine?
  •     Religion?

The above are only a few examples from the four categories.

Measuring success in medical tourism services

I am getting increasingly annoyed at how medical travel is measured.  Globally and by country, basic numbers are the best there is now, but imperfect in many ways.

When is the last time you read the financial pages and saw companies measuring annual success or failure by customer numbers alone? How many companies even report that figure?

No, they look at income, and profit and loss. So for an individual hospital going into medical travel, there really is only one goal to make a profit.

With a highly tuned engine and everything else in place, there must be a target and analysis (annual, monthly, by country of origin) to find out who the most profitable customers are.

Highly qualified, doctors…. latest technology

As a non-medical person who ghost writes books and writes features on health, I know how easily doctors slip into medical jargon and how they pepper everything possible with Capital Letters.

They tend to focus on the Treatment, the Procedure, not realizing that the customer may have other considerations.

In the hotel business,, having clean sheets, clean rooms, good service, edible food, pleasant staff etc is now vital to business survival; but do you look for a hotel advertising how clean its sheets are, or how nice the staff are? No, you take this as a given.

So for patients, the fact that a hospital has good doctors and nurses, the latest technology, new buildings, and many factors that accreditation measures is a basic given; the minimum that a paying patient expects. So why do hospitals, clinic and agencies still promote this message? Do you see travel agent brochures claiming how clean the hotel’s bed sheets are, or that they have the latest oven and coffee machines?

Changing the focus

It is time for the medical travel industry to wisen up and accept that all the basics, of which accreditation is but a mere measure, are taken for granted by customers.

Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of medical and related care, now and in the future, hospitals and clinics wanting to prosper in medical travel must broaden their vision.

Nobody looks forward to going into hospital. People vary from those comfortable with the experience, to those totally terrified of hospitals and doctors. So hospitals and clinics need to make the experience a good one in ways way beyond medical care.

The early days of medical tourism were bogged down by “come to Country X for surgery and see our beautiful country/beaches”. This, sadly, is still how much of medical travel is promoted; as it assumes that people who are willing to travel for treatment want to be normal tourists too. That may apply for a few, but the reality for most is fly in, get treated, and fly home as soon as possible. What they remember is how they were treated in the hospital and how good or bad the journeys there and home were.

Invest your time in your marketing plan

Unless you have worked out what your medical travel business is, who you are targeting, what services you offer, the price and how you are going to integrate those people in to the normal running of the clinic/hospital; then you may as well throw any marketing plan into the nearest bin.

The big mistake that hospitals and clinics make is to treat medical travelers, whether domestic or international, in exactly the same way as local patients, and that low price is enough. Yes they must get the same level of care, but they have chosen to fly hundreds or thousands of miles to your hospital; so need care and services above and beyond normal.

For a marketing plan you have to be clear about your target market, the nature of that audience and your message. If you sell just on price, then you will only attract people who are price shoppers, and as soon as a competitor nearer to where they live meets or beats your prices, that business is lost.

The message should be about the solutions you provide. How can you help them before, during and after their treatment?  You are selling solutions to their medical problem, not a supermarket product.

Most people in the medical travel business are just selling the treatment and the price, not solutions to problems.

Beyond customer service

Ask any successful hotel or restaurant whether, today, they could get away with the service levels and customer offerings they delivered ten years ago. It would put them out of business now.

The key to success is providing service and care above and beyond what the customer expects. They will tell all their friends how good the experience was, and if it was bad they will tell five times more people!

Specialize…

This is where I am probably going to make myself very unpopular with some hospitals, agents and industry “experts”

Being a generalist no longer works. You need to specialize. This does not mean be a specialist in a country or city, but in a type of treatment.

Think back to the restaurant analogy. When you go out for a meal you choose a particular type of cuisine, which determines where you eat. On holiday, you choose a city break or a beach holiday that again decides the short list of where you go.

The days of the hospital that offers every type of surgery for every nationality are over, although a few dinosaurs will survive.

Take the solutions you offer best, define your speciality and then select your target market.

Cut price or high price?

If you want to offer cut price surgery, this will define your market.  You may make money for a short time by cutting costs and service, but sooner or later poor service will lose you business. Or a competitor will undercut you. This is exactly what happened to the global textile trade. If you want to operate at the price sensitive end of the market it has to be low price but high quality and the numbers of new customers needed each month will demand lots of time and money spent on marketing and advertising.

If you want to offer top level service to people who are spending a lot more money, then this too will define your market by country; many Russian, Chinese and Gulf medical travellers are seeking high quality, high price service for which they will pay top dollar. But they expect superb service just as they get from airlines and hotels; woe betide any hospital or clinic that fails to understand this or offers poor service.

What speciality you choose and the pricing structure will depend on what you can offer.

Never stop improving

This is where accreditation can be very dangerous. You assume that because you reach a certain level, that all you have to do is keep up that level; this is what destroyed industries in countries in the past

Never forget why you are in the medical travel business, it is to make money over a long term; and that every year customers demand better service for every $ they spend. New competitors will come along and seek to steal your customers with something you do not offer. So you need to continually reinvent yourself by improving what you offer.

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