Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Patient choice in medical tourism...Let's hear the patient's voice

The recent Medical Tourism Climate Survey conducted by IMTJ for the European Medical Travel Conference 2010 provided an interesting insight into the current state of the industry and how people in the industry are thinking about medical tourism. The survey analysed the views of over 250 people involved in medical tourism from 55 countries. One particular question that drew my attention was one that asked people in the industry about the factors that influence patient choice. The question was this:

“What factors do you think are important to medical tourists when they choose a healthcare facility or treatment provider abroad?”

Expertise and qualifications of the doctor/dentist ranked first. Comments and ratings by other patients ranked second.

It’s the high ranking of “patient opinion” that surprised me, given the industry’s apparent reluctance to “buy in” to the concept of patient ratings and reviews. Hospitals worldwide are investing large sums of money in accreditation and quality standards, sometimes as a marketing tool to attract patients and referrers. But very few patients have any idea what JCI accreditation means, or how this can help them to compare quality at different hospitals.

So, how are patients comparing competing destinations and healthcare providers?

As patients evolve into healthcare consumers, they are considering the purchase of healthcare in much the same way that they consider the purchase of any consumer good or service. And medical tourists are no different.

Let’s consider the tourism or travel element of medical tourism and medical travel. When consumers are booking a holiday or a hotel, what do they do and where do they go to gather information that will guide their choice. To determine price and availability they visit travel and holiday portals online. Sites such as Lastminute.com and Expedia attract massive volumes of traffic. And where do these consumers go to gather “opinion” about quality and services at their destination or hotel. Travel consumers want to hear from “people like me” before they buy.... which is why TripAdvisor has become one of the busiest web sites in the travel sector.

So, what are the options for medical tourists who want to hear from “people like me” before they buy? Many patients whether they are travelling patients or “stay at home” patients make extensive use of patient forums before they make a decision on treatment at home or abroad. Infertility treatment abroad is a good example. Take a look at the Fertility Treatment Abroad section of the FertilityZone web site, and some of the discussions that take place around the services provided by various IVF and infertility clinics abroad:

If you were a patient seeking infertility treatment abroad what would influence your decision more....

  • The accreditation status of the clinic?

  • The qualifications of the doctor?

  • The views of other patients?

I’m willing to bet that the views of other patients....“consumer opinion” would be the major influence on your decision. (Obviously, for IVF treatment, patients would also be looking at outcome data/fertilisation rates published by the clinic). This seems to be the conclusion reached by the respondents in the IMTJ Medical Tourism Climate Survey.

So...why hasn’t the medical tourism sector bought into patient ratings and reviews?

At Treatment Abroad, we were the first to enable medical tourists to rate and review overseas hospitals and clinics. At Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews, patients can score these clinics and post their comments about the service and treatment received. To enable this, we invest heavily in Bazaarvoice, the world leaders in online rating systems to manage our new service. They make sure that only valid reviews make it on to our medical tourism reviews site. The moderators are well educated, trained and tested to ensure only appropriate user-generated content gets posted. Nevertheless, we are disappointed in the adoption of this reviews system by our clients.

When we promote the reviews system direct to patients and people who have enquired about treatment abroad, we get excellent take up. Patients are keen to share their experiences and benefit from other patients’ experiences. Similarly, some of our clients see the benefit of allowing patients to rate and review their services and actively encourage their past patients to visit the site and post a review. The system is free. It doesn’t cost the client a penny extra to participate. But many of our clients are less enthusiastic about patient reviews.

Why is there reluctance to encourage patient reviews for medical tourism?

The most common objection from clients is that they are worried about negative reviews. What happens if a patient actually says something that they don’t like?

Well, as all of the hotels and holiday providers on Trip Adviser know, a negative review may affect their business negatively. Or will it?

On Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews, we publish negative patient reviews, as long as they are not profane or violate other rules of moderation, such as raising litigation or malpractice issues.

Negative patient reviews are valuable

Negative reviews are of value to the healthcare provider and to healthcare consumers. Negative reviews show credibility – if there are nothing but 5-star reviews for your services, healthcare consumers get suspicious about the authenticity of the content.

Negative reviews also give objective feedback and help healthcare providers uncover blind spots. Perhaps there was a breakdown in a process or poor communication with the patient, or some misinformation in the description of your services on your website. Direct feedback from your patients is the most transparent way to uncover these issues and get them solved quickly.

When we publish a negative review on Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews, we give the client a chance to respond – to explain what went wrong and to say what they are doing to put things right. Negative reviews which we reject and do not publish (but we do pass to clients) are also incredibly valuable. When patients are upset with your service or their treatment, they sometimes get angry, which can cause them to violate the terms of our review system, use profanity, threaten legal action or go off on a tangent – all things that can lead us to reject a review.

Don't ignore negative patient reviews

It’s important for healthcare providers not to ignore this information, because if you can uncover and solve a legitimate problem, and complete the circle, it makes it less likely that the patient will spread their rancour to blogs, forums, and other places where you are unable to see, control or address their comments.It’s important for healthcare providers to review all negative content, so they can uncover service or system improvements to improve future patient interactions.

The message... it’s time for medical tourism providers to start actively encouraging patients to rate and review their services and to start listening to what patients have to say. Accept that sometimes things do go wrong, that patients will be unhappy and will want to tell the world.

You may learn more from getting something wrong than you do from getting something right.


Unknown said...

Dear Keith,

On the onset let me congratulate you and your team for coming out with such thoughtful posts - "Patient choice in medical tourism...Let's hear the patient's voice".

When we started Mediescapes India we believed in "A complaint is a Gift is itself a gift !. This is a jewel of a working motto about the most important issue in the development of any person or organization - how to respond to feedback from valuable customers, especially when it isn't flattering or positive and in turn it gives us a reason to improve and do better than our competitors"………

During those days we used to mention patient names initially then few of our patients wrote to us later requesting us to delete their names from our testimonial section but were open to idea of being referred to any new prospective patient cross referral about our and our partners credibility and later on when we became first ISO 9001 : 2000 Certified Health Care Company during the course of discussion with our ISO lead Auditors we came up with concept of providing unique ID numbers to all patient testimonials but with passage of time and after reading your this thoughtful article we suggest that your media company may start a independent / unbiased medical patients testimonial reporting section on the lines of tripadvisor.com which will benefit all stakeholders in medical value travel business.

Hope to hear from you on above suggestion.

I personally cherish our interaction with you since early 2005 if I correctly recall  and we wish you and your media communication company all the very best.

With regards,
D. Arun Kumar, Chief Executive
For Mediescapes India

Keith Pollard said...

""A complaint is a Gift is itself a gift !. This is a jewel of a working motto about the most important issue in the development of any person or organization - how to respond to feedback from valuable customers, especially when it isn't flattering or positive and in turn it gives us a reason to improve and do better than our competitors"……… "

Very well put. I can see that your organisation is on the right lines.

>>>we suggest that your media company may start a independent / unbiased medical patients testimonial reporting section on the lines of tripadvisor.com which will benefit all stakeholders in medical value travel business

We currently run Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews at http://reviews.treatmentabroad.com/
but we are looking at how we might improve and enhance this.

Unknown said...

The content in this blog really is credible.When going for a comparison between the costs involved there are many other options to think about. INDIA is a country that has all the fine qualities to promote MEDICAL TOURISM with its seamless service
and wider range of surgical options. INDICURE is a limited company in India offering customized health care services for medical tourism in coordination with support services of accommodation and transportation.INDICURE offers cost medical treatment india

Anonymous said...

Keith I concur that patient satisfaction plays a huge role in patient decisions about where to receive treatment. As a medical tourist who traveled to India for surgery, I was amazed at the lack of patient satisfaction data. The Fortis Hospital in Bangalore created numerous patient interviews on video, which nearly had me sold on going there. In the end the qualifications of my surgeon, the fact that he had performed 3500 gallbladder removals and that he was U.K.-Board certified, convinced me. Still, the lack of quantitative, statistical data on patient satisfaction among hospitals and physicians was appalling.

-David Cook, USA

kush said...

Hi frind,
can i get the details about the medical tourism, like how many people [or percentage] are used medical tourism in different countries by yearly..also the yearly ratio of growth in this medical tourism sector.
why i need this details, coz i want to knw the market growth in this sector and based on this details planning to make a service..

Keith Pollard said...

"how many people [or percentage] are used medical tourism in different countries by yearly..also the yearly ratio of growth in this medical tourism sector"

You are pursuing the Holy Grail, I'm afraid. the truth is that no one really knows the answer to this, although you will hear many figures plucked out of the air.

Rob Dickman said...

I think there are huge complications in comparing medical tourism to leisure travel and there is a pressing need for reliable information. When I think about booking a holiday, I may well glance at Trip Advisor, as well as other online and written information and then make a judgement. I wouldn’t in any way call Trip Advisor-type sites the deciding factor in choosing our holidays - and of course booking a holiday is very different to undertaking a medical procedure in a foreign land.

Customer reviews have their place but there is a need to be sensible about taking information at face value – especially from websites that, shall we say, take a less rigorous approach to filtering and validating responses. Taking the word of reviews is not so different from undergoing a procedure because "Sharon from the nail salon knew someone who had a good experience there...”. (Why not just order a manual, buy a knife and do the surgery yourself - you could REALLY save some money!)

Paying Sharon to do nails is probably a good thing….trusting her as your consulting professional in selecting a stranger to cut your face or torso, in a non-accredited clinic thousands of miles away? Not so much!

As medical travel grows, so does the need for experienced professionals providing knowledge and experience to assist the client so that they can select from the most qualified providers. This of course is the opposite end of the spectrum to shady middle men who are looking to make a fast buck…..

Pulsar Maniac said...

Benefits of Medical Travel: Quality and Cost Savings
posted on: sat, october 2010
posted by : manuheart123
The practice of travelling to distant lands to access medical care is considered to be as old as civilisation itself. Modern history is full of anecdotes of people visiting spas and sanatoriums to recover from various illnesses such as tuberculosis, bronchitis and liver disorders. A concept once exclusively associated with chronic diseases for which cure was not widely available, medical travel has now come to cover a wide array of medical needs.

link :- http://www.heart-consult.com/articles/benefits-medical-travel-quality-and-cost-savings

www.totalmedhelp.com said...

Medical tourism is not a new facility its been in to existence since 1950 when people used to travel abroad for their health for the specialty which were not available in their host country. now in this advance world of technology where things are become so easy still cost is the matter of concerned for all individual. patient seek treatment of quality but at very affordable price.which is available in developing countries like INDIA . Patient choice to choose the health care which suits to his budget. totalmedhelp.com help those patients to find the facility which can meet their requirement.and by providing them other facilities and help them to find homely environment in INDIA