For years, non-U.S. residents have traveled into the U.S. for healthcare, many travelling from third-world countries every year for their annual check-ups, second opinions, diagnosis or treatment of a wide array of medical conditions. If you Google the topic, you’ll find records of wealthy and/or affluent travelers from other countries visiting the U.S. as far back as 2000 for everything from difficult-pregnancy childbirths to cancer diagnosis.
The 2008 Deloitte Report on Medical Tourism gives a decent state-of-the-union report on inbound medical tourism. Inbound Medical Tourism is described as patients from other countries traveling to the U.S. to receive medical care. Outbound Medical Tourism is the opposite of inbound; it is described as patients from the U.S. traveling to other countries to receive medical care. The main commercial feature of that report is that inbound medical tourism is expected to be essentially stagnant into the foreseeable future. However this doesn’t mean that we can’t glean some meaningful comparisons between inbound and outbound healthcare.
First, for both inbound and outbound medical tourism, there are underlying industry drivers. For inbound, proximity is a driver. The bordering countries of Canada and Mexico offer proximity. In addition, there are domestic issues that render travel as an attractive option. Canadian visitors seek to avoid long waiting times in their country. Mexican visitors may seek better access to quality than they can find locally. For outbound, the overwhelming industry driving force is cost savings for the payer, be it employer, insurance company or government, as well as the individual.
Beyond the industry drivers that essentially create and establish the industry, there is the issue of quality. For inbound, there is the notion that the U.S. hospitals provide a standard of quality that provides sufficient assurance that they will be able to secure quality healthcare. In addition, the affluent inbound patient seeks specific hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers of international renown in their field of expertise. Both those examples are indicators of the desire for quality. For outbound patients there is the similar desire for quality. In the industry, such quality assurance has become exemplified by accreditation of the foreign-based healthcare provider by a renowned accreditation organization.
The Patient Experience
Patient treatment begins with patient reception; how a healthcare facility prepares for, and receives, its patients – specifically, how it receives its non-resident patients. Consideration of the obvious differences between resident and non-resident patients suggests that this area of treatment (reception) should be specific to each patient type. Language considerations, food considerations, cultural considerations and ethnic considerations are a few of the relevant factors that must be addressed.
How a hospital or clinic incorporates these considerations into their overall business model is of particular interest to a marketing specialist like me. The reason that this holds special appeal for marketing types is because the patient experience is one of the major marketing tools that a healthcare facility has. The patient experience translates directly into word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing has been and continues to be the strongest influencer in the buying decision of ALL products and services in our world.