These days anyone in medical tourism can be labeled as an “expert”. It is a word used for self-promotion to secure business and enhance stature in an increasingly competitive global market. It has lost credibility because it is so commonplace. It no longer measures the value of the “expert’s” opinion in the marketplace.

Expert differences

The lack of quality control in society for defining oneself or being defined as an “expert” presents challenges that we face every day in business life. What are the consequences of the devaluation of the word “expert”? How do we know who truly is an expert bringing knowledge and experience to clients or those who are “pretenders”? What consequences, if any, are there to exaggerating or fabricating stature to promote as an “expert”?

Defining “Expert”

According to the Business Dictionary, an expert is a “Professional who has acquired knowledge and skills through study and practice over the years, in a particular field or subject, to the extent that his or her opinion may be helpful in fact finding, problem solving, or understanding of a situation”.

[i] This definition requires a combination of learning and experience during an extended period of time in a specialized topic such that the person may add value in providing clarification or direction to the client. It makes sense to me. Do you agree?

Pretender or Contender?

Experts: Contenders or Pretenders?Here are two examples that I have recently encountered concerning experts in the field of medical travel. One hospital promote its in-house “medical tourism expert” who, with all due respect, is a graduate student with no experience in the field. In my opinion, conducting in-depth research without context or experience is not “expertise” – it is research. Implying that the hospital offers a positive medical tourism experience because it employs a graduate student is disingenuous at best.

In a more egregious example, a client provided a copy of a confidential report by one of the Big Four accounting consultancies, experts hired to produce a feasibility study for a multi-million dollar hospital project. The report was the conglomeration of Google searches and offered outdated research and an appalling lack of understanding of the dynamics of the sector. It seems to me that the report could not have been prepared by an “expert”. The client hired us to “correct” some of the assumptions set out in the Big Four report that proved to be erroneous once the project got underway and millions of dollars were committed to the project.

These examples are provided to demonstrate that the term “expert” is being misused and possibly abused at many levels in the sector.  You may ask, “So who cares?” The answer to that question is: Anyone or any organization that is relying on the representation of expertise is being harmed to some extent.  That harm may take the form of financial loss, damage to reputation, lack of trust in that resource, and more. What do you add to this list?

Truth or Consequences

In the example of the hospital promoting its “medical tourism expert”, the hospital is representing to potential patients, facilitators and others that it offers services for international patients that set it apart from healthcare providers that do not provide this expertise. The representation sets certain expectations that influence individuals to choose its hospital over others. Perhaps the hospital can meet those expectations but perhaps not. It has put its reputation at risk.Experts lead to success or failure

In the example of the client paying a considerable sum of money to a Big Four consultancy for a multi-million dollar project, the consequences of a deeply flawed report carried serious financial consequences. The project moved forward based on the feasibility report that projected positive cash flow based on large numbers of patients, – in other words, “if you build it, they will come” and success will be yours. Instead, the patients did not come in any numbers sufficient to make the hospital project successful. Additional costs were incurred when we were hired to try to salvage the situation and give it a new direction. Time and money were wasted. Healthcare services were not being provided to patients who needed them.

What can we do?

Clearly individuals are not going to stop promoting themselves as “experts” whether rightly or wrongly. What can we do to protect ourselves from pretenders so that we align ourselves with the contenders? Here are a few suggestions. Please offer ideas of your own.

First, when you see that someone is being promoted as an “expert”, dig deeper. In other words, what knowledge and skills have they acquired in a particular field to have earned the title of “expert”? Then you can judge for yourself if that person is an expert in your eyes, capable of doing the work that you would like them to do or determine the value of their opinion.

Every expert was once a beginnerSecond, there are levels of “expertise”. Working with a graduate student with no experience in the sector to conduct field research offers a sufficient level of knowledge and skill for that project. Everyone should have the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience to become a true expert. Expecting that same individual to conduct a feasibility study for a multi-million dollar hospital project seems unreasonable and possibly foolish.

Third, when our client hired a Big Four consultancy to conduct its feasibility study, the client should have asked about the team members for the project. Given the quality of the report, it became clear to us immediately that it was prepared by someone with little or no experience in the sector. The report’s shortcomings became clear to the client as well as the project sputtered and failed to meet benchmarks. The client did learn from the experience so that before we were hired to “fix” the situation, we were required to provide samples of our work, offer references, and engage in in-depth discussions before we were hired. That screening process may seem like common sense but often times people are swayed by the “experts” and do not test the label to measure the level of expertise to ensure it is commensurate with the job to be done.

The saying caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – is just as true for tangible items as it is for professional services. Looking for advice or services from an expert? Ask questions and become an informed consumer.


Join the conversation and leave your comments below. Thank you!

[i], accessed 21 January 2016.
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Elizabeth Ziemba

President at Medical Tourism Training
With a diverse background in public health, law and business, Elizabeth brings a unique set of skills and experience to Medical Tourism Training with services including assessment tools, online and onsite training, workshops, and consulting services for governments, providers, facilitators, associations and others involved in medical travel.