Are You Using SIT’s in Your Medical Travel Program?

Standardized information templates (SIT’s) are a quick and easy way to improve operational efficiency and the patient experience, regardless of the stage of development of your medical travel program. Traveling patients are often seeking information and price estimates from multiple healthcare providers, the quicker you are able to respond with information that is relevant to their needs, the likelier it is that you will gain their trust. [1]

For the purpose of this article, a “standardized information template” can be defined as a preset format for a document or other digital media containing information that can be reused multiple times with little or no modification. It may be a stand-alone MS Word or PDF document or information available online or via a mobile app. SIT’s are especially useful during the initial contact and planning phases when potential medical travelers require information from healthcare providers to make a decision and the latter require information from the patient to confirm if they are candidates for the requested treatment or procedure.

For instance:

Medical travelers will want to know about their treatment plan.

  • What are the potential risks of the treatment or surgery?
  • What type of medications and supplements should I stop taking before my trip?
  • How long should I be fasting before my tests?
  • What should I take with me on the day of my surgery?

Medical travelers will want to know about travel logistics.

  • Do I need a visa for my trip?
  • How much do the flights cost?
  • Who is going to pick me up at the airport and transfer me to and from the hospital and hotel?
  • What accommodation options are available?
  • Does the recommended hotel offer handicap accessible rooms? Do they offer special diets? Is nursing care available?
  • What should I pack?

Medical travelers may also want to know about the destination, its culture, traditions and potential safety concerns.

  • What languages do people speak?
  • Is the water safe to drink?
  • Where is the nearest embassy?
  • Are there any interesting places my companion and I can visit before my treatment?

As a healthcare provider, you will need to request information from prospective patients such as:

  • Medical history
  • Diagnostic reports and tests
  • Insurance information
  • Financial information

If you are a healthcare provider managing a low volume of traveling patients, you may be able to get away with your staff creating information on the fly – again, again and again. However, once your medical travel patient volume begins to increase, this situation will become untenable unless you have a quick and efficient mechanism for requesting and providing information.

An easy solution to efficiently manage this exchange of information is to have forms and information templates available that can be used to quickly and accurately inform and educate medical travelers about the details of their treatment and trip, as well as help healthcare providers gather the necessary information they need to screen patients prior to acceptance.

Which SIT’s should healthcare providers create?

You are probably using many standardized information templates already or perhaps different staff members are using information that has not yet been identified formally as a standardized template. Talk to physicians, nurses and staff involved with your medical travel program for their feedback. Ask them: “What information do your traveling patients regularly request or need? What information do you typically request from traveling patients?”

Below are a few examples of forms and templates healthcare providers may want to use to efficiently manage the initial contact and planning stages of the medical travel care continuum:

  • Medical procedure/treatment templates
    The title says it all. However, it is important to make sure that the treatment information is adapted for the needs of medical travel patients. For example, specifying how many days the patient should remain in the hospital as well as in the country. Some healthcare providers may also include a price estimate or range along with the description. If you chose to do so, make sure to include a disclaimer along the lines of “This is only a general estimate. A final price quote will be provided once the physician has reviewed your medical history.”
  • Medical history questionnaire
    Whether online or in document form, the medical history questionnaire for medical travelers should be especially comprehensive in order to ensure prospective patients – who may be traveling from hundreds or thousands of miles away, are candidates for the treatment they are requesting. Some healthcare providers may also include questions related to medical travel such as: “Expected departure date?” “Length of Stay?” and “Do you have a passport?”
  • Patient bill of rights
    While this is technically not an information template that you would modify on a regular basis, a document with patient rights and responsibilities should be available in the patients language of choice and provided to patients prior to travel.
  • Credit card authorization form/Wire transfer information
    Used to charge traveling patients a deposit for their medical procedure.
  • Price consent form
    Used to confirm in writing that the patient is in agreement with the price that will be charged for the treatment or package, and is aware that medical complications or additional care may be charged extra.
  •  “What to expect” information
    As the name suggests, this information should include a fairly detailed overview of the medical travel care continuum with the goal of informing patients and answering common questions. For example: On the day after your arrival you will be picked-up at your hotel by a hospital representative and transported to the hospital. At admissions you will be met by our international staff. Please make sure to bring your passport and refrain from bringing any valuables unless strictly necessary.
  • Recommended accommodation options
    This is simply a list of hotels or apartments recommended by your organization. Some healthcare providers may prefer to include detailed descriptions while others may only include links to the hotels’ websites.
  • Safety information
    A document or webpage that includes recommendations and advice about how patients can stay safe in your country or city including advisories by a particular embassy, government or tourism ministry.
  • Destination information
    General information about your city or country including entry requirements, local currency information, climate, shopping, restaurants and tourism information.
  • Packing list
    Important items that patients should bring on their trip, both for clinical purposes as well as for general travel needs.
  • Pre and post-surgery indications
    A list of indications for the pre and post-surgery process designed to ensure a safe medical procedure and optimal post-surgical recovery.

It’s not brain surgery but…

Creating SIT’s is pretty straightforward, however, there are some important things to keep in mind which also apply to all communication with patients:

  • Try not to overload your emails with information
    • Break up information into short paragraphs with bolded headings
    • Include links to more lengthy information available online
    • Use attachments when necessary as long as they are not extremely large files (these may compromise email delivery)
  • The information should be relevant or customized to the prospect’s request/needs
    • SIT’s are great, but they need to be adapted to the prospect’s or the patient’s particular circumstances. For example, a price estimate for a certain procedure may indicate an in-country recovery of 7 days. However, a particular patient may present some comorbidities that require a longer stay.
  • The information should be available in the prospect’s preferred language
  • Avoid using complex medical terminology as much as possible. Plain language makes it easier for everyone to understand and use health information.[2]
  • Private health information should be transferred in accordance with data privacy laws that are applicable to the patient’s home country as well as to the destination healthcare provider.

What are the benefits of using standardized information templates?

The ability of healthcare providers to provide timely responses with information that is relevant to their medical travelers’ needs will ultimately enhance the patient experience. Using standardized information templates provides additional benefits as well, including:

Consistency. Utilizing standardized information templates ensures consistency across all your communication channels regardless of who is answering.

Reduction in errors. Have you ever sent a document only to realize that certain information was missing? Templates can reduce those mistakes by ensuring a consistent rundown of points to include.

Speed. SIT’s allow staff to respond quickly.

Save time, by allowing staff to automate repetitive tasks.

If you are interested in learning more about best practices in medical travel, sign up for our monthly newsletter. Just send an email to info@ghaccreditation.com with “GHA Newsletter” in the subject line.

[1] Sinha, R. Effective Communication Helps Building Trust and Improving Performance of A Service Industry: A Literature Review and Theory Building. Indian Journal of Research. (2014). Retrieved at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265164033_Are_Effective_Communication_Helps_Building_Trust_and_Improving_Performance_of_A_Service_Industry_A_Literature_Review_and_Theory_Building on March 25, 2018

[2] Plain Language Materials and Resources. CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/developmaterials/plainlanguage.html on March 25, 2018.

 

 

*Medical travel is also commonly known as medical tourism or health tourism.