Strategy and planning are key to success


Have you ever told a staff member or consultant to “Just Do It”?  It is a disturbing trend in medical travel and does not serve the sector well.

Too Much “Hurry Up” and Not Enough “Stop and Think”

A conversation with a leading health care consultant revealed that one of her clients said to her, “I don’t want you to think, just do it”.  The client’s request set off alarm bells in her head.  The value of her services are tied to her experience and depth of knowledge that could prevent clients from making serious mistakes yet this client wanted her to do something without knowing if the “something” was going to be of any value to the client.  She declined working with this client.

Her experience clearly articulated a common occurrence in the medical travel field – doing something without taking the time to conduct the market research to ensure that the direction pursued and money spent would generate the desired results. Our fast-paced work world encourages people to move ahead quickly without taking time to understand the demand, the design of products and services that will meet that demand, formulating a plan and then acting in accordance with a plan.  Perhaps it is time to slow down and learn lessons from past mistakes to avoid them in the future.

The “Field of Dreams” approach to development

The movie “Field of Dreams” is about a farmer in a remote rural area in the United States who gambles his family’s economic future by building a baseball field in the middle of nowhere because the spirits of baseball greats have told him, “If you build it, they will come”.   Perhaps the ghosts of medical tourists past have whispered in the ears of developers, “If you build hospitals, patients will come”.  Unfortunately many of these predictions have not been fulfilled so hospitals are empty or under-utilized with millions of dollars wasted.

A market feasibility study conducted prior to the decision to build avoids this problem.  A feasibility study or feasibility analysis is the in-depth evaluation of a proposed project to determine if:

(1)    It is technically feasible.

(2)    It is feasible within the estimated cost or budget.

(3)    It will be profitable based on the demand for the product or service. 

A feasibility study is essential when large sums of money are at risk. A well-designed feasibility study provides a historical background of the business or project, description of the product or service, accounting statements including expense and revenue projections, details of the operations and management, market research including potential markets, financial data, legal requirements, and tax obligations.  And yes, it does involve a great deal of thinking so that the recommendations are based on fact not fiction or wishful thinking.

What can be done if an unsuccessful project was developed without a feasibility study? Research can be done to determine the ”best alternative use”.  Similar to a feasibility study, this type of research works with an existing product or service to suggest alternate uses to suggest ways to reposition, refit, or redefine the project to recoup losses and move in a positive direction.

Who wants your products and services?

Another common mistake in the medical travel field is the promotion of products and services  without understanding the characteristics of the targeted market and the demand for those products and services.  It is another aspect of the “Field of Dreams” backwards approach to  building a business. 

Many health providers and related service providers relied on the deeply flawed 2008 Deloitte report that projected astronomical growth of medical travel sector.  Instead of approaching this report with skepticism and in-depth analysis, it was held up by the Medical Tourism Association and other groups as the unvarnished truth.  The voices of those recommending caution were drown out by those who had a vested interest in convincing others that it was true.  Much damage was done, money spent, hopes dashed, and overall the reputation of the sector suffered damage to its reputation. It is time to turn a new chapter and work within the current economic realities with the opportunities that do exist.

Now that the realities of the sector are coming into sharper focus, what can be done to better serve the clients who are interested in developing the market? One solution is to look for answers and opportunities that do exist.  For example, ProExport Colombia commissioned an extensive in-depth analysis of various markets to guide its international health marketing efforts.  As part of that research team, the type of primary research that was conducted for ProExport is innovative, specific, actionable, and the basis for future activities.  Other organizations can benefit from this type of market research project. The government of Colombia is willing to invest in thinking and to work as a team to focus its efforts and budgets on a plan that will generate results.

Invest in the thinking before the doing to identify those individuals and organizations who are most likely to purchase your services and products before wasting your marketing budgets on efforts that are unfocused and unlikely to yield return on investment.  If you offer services or products without thinking first, the clients may not come.

“We spent the money but we still don’t have any patients”

After attending three conferences in three countries in the last three weeks, it is apparent that huge sums of money are being spent to promote products and services at conferences.  For several medical travel organizations, entire budgets are expended to attend these conferences with little or nothing left to invest in market research, marketing, or other services like training.  What are the goals for attending conferences and are the goals likely to be met at each particular conference?

If your primary goal of attending a conference is to generate patients or customers, then it is unlikely that your goal will be successful. This kind of approach is clearly in the undesirable “Field of Dreams”.  Unless your organization operates in the business-to-business arena, you are unlikely to come away with clients because they do not attend the typical medical travel conference.  Certainly other goals are attainable including networking, sharing and gaining information, building visibility, and more.  What are you goals for sponsoring, exhibiting, and attending conferences?  If your goals are not clear, then it is unlikely that you will be successful in achieving them.

Has your organization spent the majority or all of its marketing budget on conferences with less than positive results? Consider diversifying your spending rather than continuing to do the same things but expecting different results. Invest in some thinking to help you improve your results.  Just doing it may work for Nike but that approach has not served well the interests of the international medical travel sector.

Having dreams is wonderful.  They can motivate and inspire us but dreams are not a strategy.  Before planting your “Field of Dreams”, invest in the thinking, planning and research that can result in the business growth that you know can be achieved. 


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