By Elizabeth Ziemba, President, Medical Tourism Training, Inc.
Who would you contact if you needed medical services while traveling in another country?
Chances are you would contact the Embassy or Consulate for your home country to seek assistance in receiving medical or dental care. One of the key services provided by country representatives is help finding quality health services for their nationals who are living, working or visiting another country. Connecting with the Embassies and Consulates in your country is an opportunity to grow your base of international patients from the community of staff members, expats and visitors in your area.
Embassy or Consulate – What is the difference?
Embassies and consulates play complimentary but distinct roles in the host countries where they reside. There is only one embassy in a given country and it is generally located in the capital city, whereas there could be many consulates – typically not in the capital city. An embassy houses the Ambassador who is the high ranking official representative and spokesperson of that country. An embassy deals primarily with the political and diplomatic relations with host countries. Embassies may also perform other administrative tasks such as passport and visa processing, functions shared with Consulates.
Consulates are usually located in large cities within a country other than its capital. Consulates are managed by Consuls and their staff members. Rather than diplomatic functions, consulates are focused on administrative operations including passport and visa processing as well as assisting expats and visitors with routine and emergency situations. Consulates are tasked with developing trade relations including key relationships with businesses and organizations in their communities such as hospitals, medical and dental practices.
Each county maintains Embassies and Consulates in other countries around the world. For example, the United States Department of State helps expats and travelers locate medical services and notify friends, family, or employers of emergencies. A list of all US Embassies and Consulates can be found at www.usembassy.gov. Embassies and consulates for all countries can be found at www.embassypages.com.
Regardless of their distinct functions, both Consulates and Embassies maintain information about health care providers who can care for their staff, expats, and visitors from their home countries.
Becoming the Provider of Choice
According to Margaret Ball, former Director of International Patient Services at Baylor University Medical Center and consultant for Medical Tourism Training, dental and medical service providers can take steps to become the preferred choice for Embassies and Consulates
“First, get to know the local embassy and consular officials and staff by visiting them at their offices”, recommends Ms. Ball. “Make an appointment and learn first-hand how things work in their offices when someone needs medical or dental care. Ask if you can leave brochures or other information about your services.”
“The next step is to invite representatives from the Embassy or Consulate to visit your hospital, medical or dental practice. Tailor the tour to your guest by showcasing your services while respecting their valuable time”, advises Ms. Ball. “While the focus may be on the Ambassador or Consul, remember to invest time to meet the staff members who are the front line representatives and who can influence where people go for health care services. Create mailing campaigns for Embassies and Consulates to educate them about specific clinical services and particular customer services that can benefit nationals from their country. As an additional step, consider inviting the Ambassador or Consul for a complimentary service such as an executive exam so that he or she can experience first-hand your quality services”.
Before contacting Embassies or Consulates in your region, be sure you understand the differences between the two and use the correct terminology in your communications with them. By accurately referring to the “Ambassador” or “Consul” as well as understanding their role in foreign relations, you will begin the process of building relationships with a solid first step.
Can you deliver the required services?
Offering services to expats and visitors from other countries assumes that your organization has the clinical expertise as well as the organizational infrastructure to handle the needs of international patients – even those living or visiting locally. If you do not have capacity to deliver a superior patient experience including such services as language interpreters and translators, culturally competent staff, and financial systems to handle foreign currency, then first focus on building these services before seeking Embassies and Consulates as customers. If you try to get the business before you are ready, you risk offering a negative experience that may prevent another referral to your organization.
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