Irving Stackpole offers a realistic, rational view on the medical travel market, and considers the questions that are often left unanswered.
With so much hyperbole and (frankly) nonsense swirling around the topics of medical travel and international “medical tourism”, it’s hard to know where to start a reasonable, rational approach to the market. As a healthcare marketing professional with over 40 years’ experience in the healthcare sector, I have learned to sort the “wheat from the chaff” so to speak. My conclusion is that there are very few models to understand the market, and so little reliable or credible data, that we all should take a deep breath and start deconstructing this phenomenon called (inappropriately, in my opinion) “medical tourism.”
For example, one of the questions which has not been thoughtfully addressed is, “Why”?
Why do consumers travel for medical care?
While there are many categories among medical travelers, this question holds particular interest for the market when it is applied to consumers who could consume medical services in their home locations, but choose to travel.
After all, it was these “discretionary” medical tourists who became synonymous with the market from the outset.
The role of “price” or cost, is most frequently assumed to be a prime motivator for medical travelers. If dental care, for example, is far less expensive in Hungary than in London, why wouldn’t those who need implants travel? And if that hip replacement is too expensive in the US, why wouldn’t the man from Minneapolis travel to Monterey, Mexico? As my research and others’ have shown, price isn’t necessarily the primary motivation and the concept of “price” may actually be inversely related to perceived quality and therefore attractiveness. In other words, when it comes to medical care, consumers perceive that cheap is bad and expensive is good. So lower prices can be an obstacle to preference, rather than an advantage.
This is the type of behavioral and market-based question which my presentation at the Destination Health Summit will address.
Narrow the focus, get the right question, ask and then analyze the results. Simple.
Surprisingly, there is little research on how and why individuals choose medical providers, and there is even less scholarly, or applied research regarding how medical consumers choose providers “at a distance”. Why? Because it’s just easier to sell fantasy and fiction, rather than facts, I think. And because when the market is carefully parsed, by service line and region, separating voluntary from involuntary consumers, and simple from complex procedures, the markets are far, far smaller than others have speculated.
My colleagues and I have created some fact-based models for better understanding consumer behavior within these markets, with an eye toward influencing and managing consumer preference and behavior. Please join us!
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