Why regulation is needed in medical tourism


“Would you like to be regulated as a facilitator, Zahid?” was the question put to me as I sat in the breakfast Q&A session at the European Medical Travel Congress 2012 in Berlin.  Here’s my view for the benefit of a wider audience.

Let us make the distinction between the two types of facilitators that sit between the patient and the service provider; those facilitators who reside in the destination country, and; those who are based in the country of origin of the patients. There can be little doubt that the former are provider-centric and the latter patient-centric. This distinction comes by way of the proximity of the facilitator to provider or patient. To whom they owe their allegiance determines the attitudes that they bring to the patients’ journey, the services provided and the value added to the patient journey and experience.

Coming back to the question put to me, let me ask a counter-question; how many facilitators have adopted the Treatment Abroad Code of Practice?  It is very obvious that the adoption of a code of practice brings credibility to the activities of the compliant companies and helps them raise their heads above the rest.

The answer is instructive and reveals the true dimensions and nature of medical travel model in existence. There are a dozen facilitators who are currently compliant and all have a singular focus; to win the custom of UK patients. There is a 50:50 split between the compliant companies being clinics or facilitators. And, only one of the twelve is a facilitator and is based in the UK. But, compliance stops short of regulation. Compliance is about talking the talk and regulation is about having to walk it while you are watched!

Why do we need regulation?

So when asked the question, if I would like to be regulated as a facilitator, my answer was unequivocally in the affirmative.  To borrow from Shakespeare, ‘some facilitators have the onus thrust upon them’. Sitting in the UK, it is inescapable to:

(a)   make credible the pre-treatment, diagnostic processes

(b)   render complete visibility to pricing

(c)    translate post-operative care into reality with support in the country of origin

(d)   provide for a return to the destination for revision or corrective treatment and,

(e)   have a plausible and tangible answer to the ‘what-if’ scenarios that can and do arise.

Facilitators based in the destination countries, just like hospitals and clinics, do not wish to reach out to the patients in the country of origin, but bury their heads in the sand to wish the problems away, when they arise. The problem is that they can get away with it! That is why regulation must be hastened to oversee the healthcare travel model.  In this state of healthcare tourism that exists around us today, one is reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the fact that ‘some facilitators are more equal than others’.

This is not an exercise in self-gratification but simply an illustration that the healthcare travel industry is hamstrung by the lack of outreach in the diagnostic and post-operative care dimensions, which accompany, of necessity, local presence and proximity to the patient. The facilitator in a destination country is no more than a glorified concierge; the middle man that allows the service provider to distance itself from the patient, when they need it the most. In my response at the Q&A session, I had remarked about the need to breed trust between the players, the processes and the patients that they serve. This element of trust will only come with that outreach, to begin with.

Who should regulate facilitators?

The next key point is... who should regulate the facilitators? There is an analogy with every other association of tradespeople that espouses a code of conduct to serve the industry and further its members’ interests.  In my view, the US based Medical Tourism Association is not such a body and its certification programme is the exception that proves the rule. For the record, the MTA Certification program, launched in Nov 2008, has a total of four certified facilitators; two based in Canada and another two in the US.

If outreach and the accompanying trust that it must harbour, do not supplement the healthcare travel model to render it complete, medical tourism will remain a cottage industry. One heard of the European Medical Travel Alliance in Budapest in 2009 but little progress was made. The European Cross Border Healthcare Organisation (ECHO) met for the first and only time in Barcelona at the 3rd EMTC in 2011, however, the name did not echo in Berlin at the Fourth. Will it surface in Monaco at the IMTEC 2013? Only time will tell. Time is one commodity we have plenty of in the world of Medical Tourism – it’s not going anywhere without us!


Lessons from a decade in medical tourism

Resources, 25 April, 2017

Zahid Hamid, Euromedical Tours, IMTJ Medical Travel Summit 2017

The onus of care

Articles, 10 August, 2012

Healthcare providers can not rely on certification to draw customers

Redefining globalisation

Articles, 04 June, 2010

Is medical tourism really global, or is it a local industry?

The quality of care

Articles, 03 August, 2009

We speak to Zahid Hamid on the quality of care in medical tourism




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