By Elizabeth Ziemba, President, Medical Tourism Training, Inc.
Want to know what two experienced medical tourists had to say about their adventures in traveling abroad for surgery?
Learn from the real experts – the patients!
Two women who have traveled outside their home country shared their thoughts, comments, and insights with the audience at the IMTJ Medical Travel Summit in London. I had the opportunity to talk with them extensively as well as to interview them as part of a panel discussion at the conference. They were a huge hit with the audience as they pulled back the curtain on the process of selecting a provider, traveling for health care services, and the overall patient experience.
Sally is a veteran medical traveler who had gastric band surgery in Belgium, dental work in Budapest, and several cosmetic procedures in Slovakia. Ann went to Poland for rhinoplasty to beautify her nose. Both women live in the UK, are educated and employed, – a rather typical profile of the average medical traveler. To protect their privacy, their real names are not being used but the information and quotes provided here are their words. Both women found the healthcare providers via the Internet – “word of mouse” rather than word of mouth. They read reviews and testimonials, looked at “before and after” photos, and comparison shopped the entire price of the procedures including travel, lodging, meals and other associated costs before making decisions about where to go.
A YouTube video of the doctor was very persuasive for Ann as she could hear him speak English well enough to be easily understood. She dismissed some of the reviews. “I could tell that some of the rave reviews were written by the clinic while other terrible reviews were probably written by competitors so they weren’t credible”. Getting answers to questions before booking the surgeries was a problem in that the facilitators working for two of the providers were sales representatives rather than clinicians so some of their technical questions were never properly answered. Instead the women persisted on their own by doing more word of mouse research. “Many people would have been put off at this point and either decided against the surgery or would have looked for another doctor”. Ann and Sally persevered – how many others are lost at this point in the process? No one knows for sure. While Sally and Ann were pleased with the clinical outcomes of their procedures, they experienced challenges that they had not anticipated and for which they were unprepared. Ann was bored and isolated after her surgery. She stayed in an apartment owned by the clinic and was by herself while she recuperated. The apartment was comfortable but there were no distractions offered as local television stations were in Polish.
Ann suggests that providers advise patients to bring plenty to read as well as an iPad or similar device to help pass the time. Sally’s surgery was extensive so it could not be performed at the modern-looking clinic featured on the web site but instead was conducted at a local hospital that looked like “an Eastern European prison without the bars” while the food in the hospital was terrible. Fortunately for these women, neither one had post-surgical complications. Upon discharge from care before returning home, they were both advised to seek the care of their local physicians if there were any problems but Sally and Ann both expressed their hesitation to seek advice from the NHS. The advice may have been well-meaning but was insensitive to their feelings about seeking care at home.
When asked about post-discharge follow up, both women replied in unison, “What follow-up?” Neither one had as much as a single email from any one of the four providers to find out how they were doing or to ask for feedback about the experience. What a lost opportunity! Sally will be having more surgery done later this year but will not be going back to any of the previous providers as they never tried to build a relationship with her so her business is lost to them. Both women are potential referral sources for more business from their friends, relatives and colleagues but those opportunities are lost too.
What lessons did they learn?
Both Ann and Sally are happy with the clinical results of the surgical procedures they had done abroad, surgeries they could not afford at home. Neither one established any real connection with the providers or their organizations. Some of their questions went unanswered and the lack of follow up drove home the point that the overseas doctors saw them as immediate sources of revenue rather than individuals whose care extended beyond the borders of their countries. Referral opportunities were lost because of this impersonal approach.
What lessons will providers learn?
The answers to that question remain to be seen but it is clear that for the international medical travel sector to grow and thrive, providers will have to offer more than just good quality medical care for a good price. Creating a patient experience that is more than adequate is essential to future growth and a positive image for the industry.
Want to learn more about the experiences of these two women and other medical travelers? Medical Tourism Training can provide the answers you need to deliver a patient experience that will generate referrals and increase revenues. Please contact me to explore how to grow your medical travel business. Thank you.