What got you here, won’t get you there!

 

In the past 20 years, many countries threw their hat into the medical tourism ring and succeeded in attracting business to their country. Some focused on promoting wellness and the preventive side of healthcare, some offered cosmetic and aesthetic treatment, others positioned themselves as high end tertiary care destinations and the rest tried their luck with a little bit of everything.

A growing middle-class population with disposable income, and an upsurge of health insurance coverage spurred the demand for quality treatment and led to year on year growth in health travellers.  Increased demand led to more countries entering the sector and competing to increase their share of the pie.  Business practices, such as opening offices in source markets to raise awareness about their competitive edge, effective online communication, offering easy access to health visas and travel bundled with tourism-and-treatment, were all popular strategies.

With the world now grappling with the impact of COVID-19, and medical tourism activities nearing zero, the rules of the game will never be the same in the future. A post-COVID-19 landscape of medical tourism is one in which each destination will begin from a starting point where the race begins to become attractive again. 

This time, it will not be about getting patients attracted to softer elements of a country or value for money treatment. Much will now depend on:

  1. How well and fast a country emerges back to ‘normalcy’ from this COVID-19 crisis.
  2. How much healthcare infrastructure is available in a country to treat its patients for chronic disorders and lifestyle disease.
  3. How many spare hospital beds can be made readily available to cater for international patients without any waiting time.

In addition, a patient’s focus will also shift to choose a country where there is civic sense of continued social distancing, personalised treatment in a less crowded environment, and infrastructure where dedicated living space and transportation is readily available.

Destinations which are serious about retaining their position in the medical tourism space will have to chalk out a plan, along with private healthcare providers, to set new guidelines for handling international patients and creating an assured environment by offering personalised treatment. 

The concept of flying out doctors to source markets for performing surgeries and training local doctors may help foster healthcare partnerships between the countries.  It will also prevent unnecessary travel of patients for not so complicated procedures. Online webinars may replace traditional ways of conducting continuous medical education. International outpatient department camps may get replaced by telemedicine and online second opinions.

There will be a paradigm shift in the way medical tourism operates. The Darwinian Theory of Survival of the Fittest will be prominent in re-establishing the marketplace. The ones who adapt will emerge stronger and the ones who are slow to respond may face oblivion.

About the author: Rahul Shukla is a healthcare marketing and medical tourism professional, experienced in International Marketing and Sales of tertiary care chain of hospitals in India and the UAE. He established the NMC International Patient Centre which promotes medical tourism to NMC Healthcare’s UAE, UK, Saudi & Kenya based healthcare facilities. He has a deep understanding of the health travel markets in South East Asia, China, GCC, Africa the CIS countries. Rahul shares his thoughts about Medical Tourism on his blog.

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