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Medical Tourism: Innovating Ecosystem

Medical Tourism: Innovating Ecosystem

Are you ready for next generation of globalized healthcare?

Disruptive innovation in medical tourism industry is currently required to go beyond traditional “low cost” and “I am the best” market approaches in an extremely crowded marketplace. We are entering into a new era of medical tourism with tremendous opportunity as globalized healthcare becomes mainstream. However, the industry players are facing new threats for survival in a highly competitive industry. You must be ready to anticipate, respond, and adapt to the changing consumers buying behavior quickly or risk of becoming extinct.

Traditional medical tourism models are based on something which worked 10 years ago as a cottage industry. The new globalized healthcare ecosystem requires fundamental shift in understanding roles of stakeholders in the entire medical tourism supply chain management.

Innovating Medical Tourism Ecosystem deals with the economic relationships between entities which creates a value-based patient acquisition and service delivery processes. The next generation medical tourism ecosystem will bring together knowledge and commercial stakeholders in one marketplace to create a product which is unique in the industry.

The innovation requirement points toward integration of six key stakeholders in the medical tourism ecosystem: patients, providers, suppliers and distributors, logistics managers, government, and academics. From smarter consumer to provider specialization to factual data driven market approach are required to create a sustainable marketplace.

An extensive understanding of the legal, political, economic, socio-cultural and technology environment in the industry is essential towards developing a strategy that will help in gaining competitive advantage. Focus on random patient acquisition strategy will compel you to be left far behind in this race.

Patient Point of View

Medical tourism industry continues to lack a deep understanding and rationalization of why people travel to get their medical treatment. It is important to see things from patient point of view instead of provider point of view.

It is well known fact in the Medical Tourism industry that patients from various regions travel to various countries forming a set of trends. But as globalization and popularity of medical travel grows, these customers see many new markets and options to solve their medical needs.  As we enter into next generation of medical travel, the traditional markets are being challenged as new competitors are emerging and coming with new program which are more targeted. Let’s take a global perspective of what a patient sees from various regions:

Patients from African Continent

Africans have been traveling abroad extensively for medical care in the past 10+ years. As the acceptance of the African continent, as a target market, grew over years, other countries and providers started targeting African population for the same. With their own improvement in healthcare infrastructure, foreign investments, new government policies with respect to medical tourism, the demand for healthcare services in the continent is changing rapidly.

The African continent is currently being targeted by many regions and countries including:

  • Asia: India, Thailand, China, and others
  • Middle East: UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and others
  • Africa: South Africa, Kenya, and others
  • Who else… Western Europe, Turkey, Eastern Europe

Many traditional industry players are still approach African market in same way as they did 10 years ago. They are setting local collaborations, setting local medical consultations, trying to refer customers to their country for major procedures. Very few providers and countries are really understanding the changing local healthcare dynamics and understanding who, why, how, where will a patient from African region will travel for healthcare in the future.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) / Russian Speaking Patient Base:

Patients from CIS and Russian speaking countries seek medical travel abroad due to lack of availability of highly skilled doctors, technology, and other medical infrastructure required to deliver high quality medical services. With this known background many regions, countries, and medical providers are targeting patients from CIS region to travel for medical attention from Europe to Asia to Middle East to Americas.

Regions currently targeting this market includes:

  • Europe: Germany, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, and others
  • Middle East: UAE, Israel, and others
  • Asia: India, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, China, and others
  • Eastern Europe: Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and others
  • Who else… Americas

Each of these regions is offering best treatment at affordable cost. Each region is setting various types of collaborations in the region. But what is the point of view of citizen from CIS/Russian region? Who, why, how, where will a CIS/Russian medical traveler go?

Middle Eastern Patient Base:

Patients from the Middle Eastern countries seek medical travel abroad based on their economic strata in the society or due to their region’s specific medical infrastructure requirements. Patient needs from Iraq and Libya is very different than patients from UAE. Due to some pretense that was true 10 years ago; medical providers are still targeting patients from this region with same value proposition while the market and options have shifted dramatically worldwide.

Regions currently targeting this market include:

  • Europe: Germany, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, and others
  • Middle East: UAE, Lebanon, Jordan and others
  • Asia: Malaysia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, China, and others
  • Eastern Europe: Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and others
  • Who else… Americas

Each region is going after this market very aggressively selling their own value proposition. But very few of these regions, governments, providers are really thinking about what the exact point of view of citizens from the Middle East is. Who, why, how, where will a patient from Middle East travel for healthcare?

Americas Patient Base:

Patients from North America seek medical treatment abroad for procedures that are either not covered by medical insurance offered or for procedures that are cheaper abroad. Irrespective of perception that was presented 10 years ago about the American medical tourism marketplace, American and Canadians travel abroad for specific reasons. Yet many regions and countries are still trying to pitch their medical services to this audience for treatment which they will not travel abroad.

Regions currently targeting this market include:

  • Latin America: Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and whole Latin America
  • Asia: Malaysia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, China, and others
  • Middle East: Israel, UAE, Lebanon, Jordan and others
  • Eastern Europe: Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and others
  • Europe: Germany, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, and others
  • Who else… Domestic Medical Tourism

Based on past data, the industry still believes there are 50 million Americans who are uninsured and are ready with their bags packed to travel abroad for all sorts of medical procedures from Cardiac to Cancer to Dental and Cosmetic. But very few of these regions, governments, providers are really thinking about who, why, how, where an American or Canadian will travel to their country.

This story of understanding the demographics, social-economic conditions, customers changing healthcare needs, growing competition is required to create a strategy for next generation of medical tourism.

 

Provider and Regional Government Point of View

Every medical provider, cluster, or government body engaged in the medical travel industry considers themselves as the best doctor, best location, best price, best technology, best quality, and best “whatever”. The general perception of many medical tourism players is that the customers are ready to travel with their bags packed for their medical procedure and they are ready to pick them up at the airport.

Best Providers

Whether medical providers are in medical tourism industry or not, many of them around the world consider themselves “the best”. As they may have good local presence, they consider the same name and recognition will be applicable everywhere in the world. There are limited considerations of how a patient looking for an option in a target country will find them. How they will learn about their credentials, their certifications, their success stories, their specific offerings compared to other options they have available locally, regionally, or globally. How will a provider present their credentials beyond “I am the best” to prospective customers before they start interacting with them long before they decide to travel to a destination for medical treatment. When the providers have answers to all these ‘how’s, they will be ready to match the next level of globalized healthcare.

Location

Many in medical tourism industry, specifically in the touristic destinations consider themselves as ‘THE location’ to come. As tourists are coming anyway, they will automatically come for medical treatment as well. It is now well documented fact that patient may consider that in their choice of options but will measure such things against other critical elements such as cost, doctor’s credentials, success stories, travel time, among others. The destination has to think about similar cities, regions, countries where patient can easily access similar services at more affordable cost.

Prices

If you look into the industry everyone is selling “I have the best price”, “affordable”, “cheap”, etc. Everyone always compares their prices with the American “published” prices as a point of reference. This point of reference generally leads to a concept of “I am 70% cheaper than American prices”. Whether they are trying to attract American patient or not, they still compare pricing to American healthcare pricing. Many are forgetting that their competition is not necessarily about the American prices.

Depending on the market segmentation, the prices need to be competitive locally, regionally as well as globally. Price is a single most important criterion which was repeatedly cited as the critical element of the patient decision-making process. They compare prices locally, then in target destination among various providers.  It is logical human buying behavior pattern.

Similarly other buying decision-making factors like technology, culture adaptability, trends, etc. are critical to consider when designing a solution for medical travel.  Deep understanding of patient needs, coupled with patient socioeconomic status is necessary.

There is a significant gap between what a patient is looking for and what provider is selling in the marketplace. As the industry matures, the old adage of “build it they will come” is no longer applicable. The providers need to truly understand the patients’ point of view.  What are they looking for? Where will they travel? What they will compare before buying? How is their buying habits evolving?

Bridging the Gap between Patient’s Needs and Provider’s Value Proposition

There are several ways the gaps can be filled between what patient is looking for and what a provider is offering.  This involves several key considerations such as:

 Supply Chain Management

What is medical tourism supply chain management?  How do you optimize patient acquisition process so that it has return on investment? What are different processes that you must consider and what you have to optimize in this whole transaction to make medical tourism a viable business solution.

Medical Tourism supply chain management is the management of activities that will maximize customer value and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. It is an integration of all players in the medical tourism industry who can add value, such as patients, providers, suppliers, distributors, academics, travel & hospitality, government, and technology among others. All these stakeholders managing their own processes when combined and optimized could produce unparalleled competitive advantage. Management of information and physical processes by engaging all the elements of the supply chain can create an optimal and cost effective environment.

Data Driven Approach

Currently there is no reliable data that is present in the industry. Providers, educators and government entities needs to pool their resources to gather relevant data such as recorded data, opportunistic data, data analytics, observable data, competitive data, among others. This will provide information that is more relevant and targeted for the specific interest of the group and will not become generalized data which is full of many unverifiable assumptions and extrapolated data which are not very reliable.

Innovation Focused

Many of the basic principles currently deployed in the medical tourism industry are based on strategies people implemented 10 years ago.  These strategies have not been updated and the emergence of “me too” products in the industry have made it extremely crowded marketplace. The stakeholders needs to challenge the old strategies and collectively understand the value supply chain of the medical tourism and how it can be innovated based on new paradigm and realities… going beyond “I am the best philosophy”.

Processes Focused

Many of the processes used in the industry are complex and outdated and does not represent new ways people are able to collaborate. The rapidly changing buying behavior of the consumer compel us to start thinking how these supply chain processes needs to be transparent and optimized. The process optimization will help in creating an experience where people are willing to engage and consume the product.

Marketing Focused

Generally we still continue to promote “I am the best” concept. But hardly anyone is going to understand how people will use their product and services and its true value proposition. The whole industry has many data points where all claiming to offer “I am the best” solution. From a consumer point of view, there is a confusion who is the best and why they are the best.  This has resulted in price war. Providing proper education to the solution that hits the main requirement of a consumer will help to educate the customer in a better way. This will create a better awareness and hence increase in better consumption of the products and services. The awareness could be online, social media, community events, among many other market awareness initiatives.

Learning Focused

Education is the most important aspect of medical tourism industry which often gets ignored by all stakeholders in lieu of chasing the patient race. From educating the doctors and nurses on how to handle medical tourist to educating all stakeholders on how to participate in the medical tourism industry, everything matters. Topic grows from business planning, marketing options in this new technology driven era, how to instill creative thinking in the industry are critical to raise the bar of the industry.

 Transparency Focused

The providers should focus on providing good treatment to the medical tourists, and most importantly, they need to be transparent. It should not be like the price is higher than what is advertised or there is any hidden cost. Patients travel abroad for healthcare they can trust. Healthcare is a complicated product and the patients are not familiar for navigating the difficulties of the healthcare system of a foreign country. What they need is clear answers to the questions like who will care for them, what treatment they can get, how long will it take and what will be its cost. So, the medical centers must be more transparent about Treatment, Cost, Quality and Doctors.

Regulations and Ethics

The medical tourism industry has been effected by early entrants who primarily focused on making money by any means. This has impacted the industry with lack of transparency. Being unregulated industry and no barriers to entry, people have engaged in unethical activities.  It is critical for the governments to put some arrangement and impose legal structure to control the bad behavior of people who wants to buck the system. These could include registration of medical tourism players, handling customer complaints and disputes, reporting and tracking.

Next Generation of Medical Tourism

Today, the market for medical tourism should be redefined as the consumer, providers, and the entire supply chain needs to innovate as a team, and not as an individual entity.

  • Changing Consumer Buying BehaviorConsumers are becoming smarter and their buying behavior is changing rapidly with the available information and options. They are evaluating their options in a more systematic fashion rather than just buying what’s in front of them. They are doing more research and demanding more transparency as well as seeking specialization to address their medical needs.
  • Ethical Management of Customer ExpectationsProgressive providers are adjusting their approach and learning from changing consumer buying behavior. They are presenting their specialization more clearly and managing customer expectations more ethically. They are refusing unrealistic expectations of cost or ‘outcome’ demands from consumers to avoid future problems. They are building a brand by matching global center of excellence protocols.
  • Ensuring Smoother Communication and Integrity at all LevelsFacilitators, suppliers, distributors are aligning their processes with consumers as well as providers to facilitate smoother communications and integrity of the program. The depth and breadth of solution to link consumer with desired outcome, offering more choices to the consumer, and engaging in an ethical business practices is increasing their chances of survival.
  • Government’s Role to Build Infrastructure and Protect Patients’ RightsGovernments are providing an infrastructure to protect patient rights, encouraging transparency of the system, and enforcing ethics throughout the supply chain among the other activities. They are promoting the country or region as a desired destination beyond the tourism aspect, along with promoting patient safety, and oversight on ethical business practices. They are creating more bilateral collaborating environments between countries and regions so that both benefit from the globalized healthcare environment.
  • More Research and Education on Consumer Buying BehaviorAcademics are doing more research on consumer buying behaviors. Initiating to collect and analyze data, which can help in better decision making process. Creating an environment to do human capital development that will engage in a globalized healthcare marketplace. Bilateral educational environment with other countries will bring exchange of new innovations and broader exposure to stakeholders involved in the medical tourism supply chain.

The new medical tourism model should shift towards a value-based globalized healthcare system. It needs to be measured to understand challenges as well as opportunities to build a sustainable program. We need to connect the supply chain, innovate new solutions by collaborating to gain a success in the industry.

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