Medical Tourism Innovation - an Interview with Pramod Goel, PlacidWay’s CEO
Pramod Goel is the founder of PlacidWay and one of the prominent leaders in the medical tourism industry. This interview was conducted in a recent meeting with Mr. Goel to understand the future direction of Medical Tourism industry.
September, 2018- Pramod Goel is the founder and CEO of PlacidWay, which has become the market leader in the medical tourism industry since more than a decade. Being the author of “Evolution of Medical Tourism - from Cottage Industry to Corporate World” and with vast knowledge and experience, Mr. Goel regularly speaks at different events and programs on medical tourism.
As the International Speaker, Author and CEO, Mr. Goel discusses his views of need to innovate the medical tourism ecosystem. Here are the excerpts of an interview with Pramod Goel where he has focused on various factors that affect innovating the ecosystem of medical tourism. A wide variety of discussions focused around current market challenges, competition and its role in the industry, supply chain management, patients’ needs alignment, providers’ value proposition, changing consumer behavior and more.
Q:Being the pioneer in the industry for such a long time, what do you feel that the providers should do to survive in the new era of medical tourism?
Pramod Goel: The innovation in the medical tourism ecosystem is currently required to go beyond the 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. Providers need to look deeper into what they are offering and to whom. They must be ready to anticipate, respond, and adapt to the changing consumers buying behavior as well as transparency requirements quickly or risk of becoming extinct.
The general trends we are seeing which are becoming critical in how consumer search and make buying decisions includes depth of knowledge, customer service experience (from the time inquiry is generated), speed and technology used to engage the consumer, transparency, and above all ethical behavior of the providers where information is readily available.
Q: Medical tourism has become highly competitive. What factors influence the competition?
Pramod Goel: To make a mark and succeed in the medical tourism industry, it is important to compete at the local level, regional level and the global level. To do that, you have to analyze the competition influencing factors, which can again be categorized into tangible influencer and emotional influencer.
Reducing cost and economics, innovations in technology and specialization are the tangible factors that influence competition. Whereas, the reputation of the destination where a patient wants to go for a specific treatment, culture adaptation of that place and social media drive the emotional influencing factors.
The most important thing is to know who you are competing with. You are competing on a product level with the direct and indirect competitors. The centers that offer the same product/service that you are offering are your direct competitors. However, the centers offering alternative product/services are your indirect competitors. When you are competing globally, you have to successfully tap both tangible and emotional influencers along with the direct and indirect competitors.
Q: How to strike the right balance between the demand and supply of services amid current market challenges?
Pramod Goel: The increasing accessibility of top-notch healthcare services combined with low costs in the developing nations as well as high specialization and technology in developed countries is driving the global medical tourism supply chain. The medical tourism market has risen significantly in the nations like Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Turkey to name a few. The growth is driven by private investments as well as governmental supports in many places.
In order to strike a balance between supply and demand, a clear understanding of medical tourism supply chain is important. Why will a person from Eastern Europe travel to Western Europe or a person from the U.S. to Latin America? This coupled with What and How needs to create a logical, pragmatic understanding of the consumer needs which can be fulfilled by suppliers in target countries.
Currently, we see an imbalance between the supply and demand. The industry is unable to go beyond “I am the best” or “come to me I can provide affordable care compared to American prices” concept. The suppliers/providers are not focusing on WHY of the new generation of medical consumers. They are not able to create and educate prospective customer a value proposition that will compel the industry to become mainstream. We continue to see illogical explanation and reasoning presented to consumers whom providers are trying to attract, hence creating an imbalance or stagnation in the industry.
The innovation of Medical Tourism ecosystem needs to deal 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 products that are unique and fulfill a need.
Q: If we ask you to state only one suggestion to the medical service providers in order to succeed in this sector, what it would be?
Pramod Goel: 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 the 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 evolving and coming with new programs, which are more targeted.
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 the patient’s point of view instead of the provider’s point of view.
Let’s take an example:
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.
Many traditional industry players still approach the African market in the same way as they did 10 years ago. They are setting local collaborations, setting local medical consultations, and, 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 travel for healthcare in the future. Such an approach will not succeed in the long run.
Another problem is that 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”. If they have a 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.
Q: Is location the most important factor for a patient to choose a medical tourism destination?
Pramod Goel: Many in the 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 a patient can easily access similar services at more affordable cost. Based on this analysis, they have to come up with competitive plans to attract new patients across the globe.
Q: What is your opinion on pricing, which is indeed one of the key factors that influence the international patient’s decision?
Pramod Goel: 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 a 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? When the providers have answers to these questions, they can bridge the gap between what they are offering and what the patients want.
Price transparency is the ONLY way healthcare can become globalized in its truest sense.
Q: How the providers can gain a competitive advantage?
Pramod Goel: Medical Tourism supply chain management can 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 an 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.
Q: Apart from Supply Chain Management, what else?
Pramod Goel: The stakeholders need to challenge the old strategies and collectively understand the value chain of the medical tourism and how it can be innovated based on new paradigm and realities… going beyond “I am the best philosophy”.
The educational need of the industry is key – e.g., learning new management tools and techniques, business strategies which are practical in today’s economy, technological innovation to integrate the supply side of the medical tourism, data analytics are among key points that one should consider to innovate themselves for next generation of medical tourism.
Q: What according to you should help the providers to think creatively?
Pramod Goel: Education is the most important aspect of the 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 for 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.
Many of the current practices are based on 10+ years old data and mis-information. There are no factual data-driven strategies that we see being implemented. In order to be creative in this new economy and consumer buying behavior we have to rely on some factual data which is not skewed to favor one opinion over another.
I urge the medical service providers to change their approach with changing time. 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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