Keith Pollard talks on how patient choice is affecting the market?


The first in a series of articles on marketing for medical tourism businesses.
I recent years, the business of healthcare has changed significantly. In markets worldwide, patients are being viewed and described as healthcare consumers and the phrases “patient choice” and “consumer choice” have become commonplace.

As patients, people have begun to exercise and display similar traits and attributes that they do when they act as regular consumers. Slowly, healthcare providers are beginning to react to the newly empowered healthcare consumer. Understanding of healthcare consumer needs is becoming vital to the success of any healthcare business that wants to influence patient choice. And one of the key influences on consumer choice is past experience.

In healthcare, consumer preferences are often influenced by past experience, either the consumer’s  own experience  or that of friends or relatives. Thus, a patient’s impression of local doctors, hospitals and clinics will be formed from their own past experience of treatment and the related experiences  of their social group. In medical tourism, making a judgement based on past experience becomes more difficult for patients. Most don’t have any past experience of medical tourism or of a specific healthcare provider or destination on which they can make a judgement....or do they?

Many medical tourism businesses ignore the reality that past patients and their experience can be a valuable driver of future patients. In the Treatment Abroad survey of 650 medical tourists, 20% of medical tourists selected a healthcare provider because it had been “recommended by a friend”.  And many consumers now go straight to the web to find out about the experiences of other consumers and medical tourists.

So, how can medical tourism businesses and healthcare providers influence patient choice and create new business from past patient experiences?

Keep the customer relationship going....communicate!

A shortcoming of many overseas healthcare providers is that once the patient has returned home after treatment, communication ceases. They’ve treated the patient, the operation was a success and the patient is happy. But if you have a satisfied customer, how do you make them more satisfied and start recommending your services to friends?

  1.     Always contact the patient after they have arrived home. Call them to ensure that everything is OK. Don’t do this once. Schedule calls for the day after return, one week later, one month later and three months later.
  2.     Add them to your customer email list (....if you have one!) and make sure that every two or three months, they get an update from you on new services for medical tourists or on recent successes.
  3.     Send them Friends or Relatives” vouchers, offering special prices or discounts for people that they know.

Create patient ambassadors

Consider your past patients as “patient ambassadors” who can act as your unpaid sales representatives in their home country.

Get some local press coverage in their home country. Many journalists on local radio, TV and newspapers are desperate for news! If you can make life easier for them by delivering a “ready made” news story, they are likely to give it coverage. But don’t do it for every patient. Select patients who are “newsworthy” in terms of:

  •     the treatment that he/she has received
  •     the reasons that he/she decided to travel for treatment

Tell patient stories

For selected patients, write a brief patient story (and make sure that you take some pictures). Keep a portfolio of these patient stories and use them:

  •     For distribution to other patients who are considering coming for similar treatment.
  •     For use on your web site.
  •     For use with enquiries from the press and media. They are always looking for real life examples of patient experiences.
  •     For publication on medical tourism sites such as the Treatment Abroad Patient Stories.

Get patients to tell stories

Encourage patients to tell the story of their treatment on the web. Word-of-mouth on the web can be a great influence on consumer choice. Provide past patients with suggestions of sites where they can contribute information on their patient experience. These might include:

  •     Sites dedicated to specific types of surgery where patients with problems go for help and advice from other patients. e.g. kneeGuru.comfor knee surgery or general health forums such as
  •     Patient review sites such as Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews

Make the most of your past successes

The most valuable untapped resources in most businesses today are past customers. In a medical tourism market that has been shaken by the global recession, don’t be driven by the acquisition of new customers in an increasingly competitive and shrinking market.  Take a good look at the opportunities for increasing business through your current and past patients.

Imagine if every one of your past 100 patients delivered 20 new patients into your hospital or clinic....

Worth thinking about?


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