Innovation in medical tourism is very much the need of the hour if the industry is to thrive in a post-pandemic world. Necessity is the mother of innovation, and so goes the saying. However, the 21st century has witnessed a technological revolution not always driven by necessity. Food delivery became the norm before COVID-19 shut down dining, for example. What it goes to show is that today, innovation is birthed not by necessity, but by creativity. It takes creative out-of-the-box thinking to drive innovation and deliver unique solutions.
That goes for all industries, no matter what they may be. The question now arises – what can medical tourism do? For decades, the industry has been largely run the same way, connecting patients to hospitals. On overview, there seems to be little way to disrupt this centuries-old industry. However, that is far from the truth. On closer examination, there are plenty of ways for to drive innovation in medical tourism, that all stakeholders can participate in. Broadly, they can be put into three pillars: innovation in connectivity, innovation in delivery, and innovation in allied services.
Innovation in Connectivity
Thanks to the power of the internet, facilitators can now connect patients in any part of the world, to hospitals almost anywhere else. The presence of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn has also made it far easier to network, market, and connect. However, a digital-only approach cannot be sustainable for long. Governments worldwide are quickly cracking down on social media platforms, and eventually, their power will not be as it once was.
In order to ensure long-term sustainability and viable growth, all stakeholders in medical tourism must adopt a digital-first, but omnichannel approach. A physical presence is a must, especially in the developing world where trust is hard to come by. Building trust can only be done face-to-face, which is where hospitals and facilitators must invest. Anyone able to deliver an omnichannel approach to medical tourism will certainly build greater trust, and therefore drive business. It was well understood in the past, leading many hospitals to invest in clinics, outreach centres, and facilitators in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Such efforts must continue, along with the development of easy-to-use digital platforms that enable immediate and swift connectivity. WhatsApp has proven to be a big winner in this regard, and other platforms too must be leveraged to help deliver instant care. Innovation in medical tourism must start with patient discovery and connectivity, and solving that is a big challenge that comes with a bigger reward.
Innovation in Delivery
Connecting patients to hospitals has become an extremely lucrative business, so much so that it has roped in all sorts of facilitators. From travel agents to doctors and pharmacists, almost anyone these days can and is a facilitator. There is nothing inherently wrong with that per se, especially because these people know their customers best and thus their needs. However, where they are at disadvantage is their limitation in scale and serviceability.
Responding to that, multiple facilitation companies have now emerged. This model helps resolve the challenges of scale and service delivery, but that is where their innovation ends. Real innovation in medical tourism is offering something new, unique, or just something delightful, that gives patients a sense of comfort and trust. This is where few companies have managed to stand out. By offering neutral second opinions from expert doctors, and customised matchmaking, facilitators can help ensure the patient gets the care they need, delivering a truly customer-first experience. This alone won’t be enough though, as discerning clients look for more value-additional services, which is where the third pillar comes into play.
Innovation in Allied Services
Both hospitals and facilitators have quickly understood delivering quality medical care alone is insufficient. Today’s customers are always on the lookout for additional value, especially when it comes to medical tourism given its complexities and legal challenges. Even governments have now invested heavily in this regard, but again there are few one-stop solutions. Translators and travel support are now ubiquitous, but there are plenty of other gaps in the delivery of services.
For any stakeholder in medical tourism to succeed, it is vital that they look after the patient across all three stages: pre-treatment, during treatment, and post-treatment. In the first stage, stakeholders must take a more direct approach to the major roadblock in medical tourism: destination information. Many customers still remain in the dark about visa restrictions, travel restrictions, and ease of travel. While it is not completely possible to resolve all these challenges, providing the right information at the right time is a vital service overlooked by many.
The third stage is also often the most neglected, which is where the biggest opportunity lies. Delivering quality after-treatment care will help anyone stand out, and certainly help build trust and reputation. Furthermore, it is vital for stakeholders to cast a wide net and look beyond offering services to those that can travel. The biggest opportunity lies in providing care to those who cannot travel internationally, for whatever reason. Building robust delivery models to bring them into the fold of medical tourism isn’t impossible, and certainly achievable. It’s also where innovation truly lies.
Medical tourism as an industry isn’t going anywhere. All the figures and studies clearly show it growing year-on-year. There are massive opportunities to drive this growth, irrespective of location. As demand increases, clients will become increasingly discerning about what they go through and where they get treatment. Innovation in medical tourism at every stage of the process must be created and delivered, not just to drive business but also to build trust. That is the end game, and that is where stakeholders must focus on.
To understand just how innovation in medical tourism is being practised, contact Mediglobe today. Our experts can help provide delightful customer journeys combined with innovative solutions across the entire patient journey.