One aspect that separates the medical travel industry from other forms of healthcare delivery is the travel component. Medical travel patients very frequently have to fly long distances to reach the destination and do so when they may have compromised health conditions. Medical travelers also may have chosen a destination based partially on what the area provides in terms of tourist attractions and a vacation experience. Alternatively, the reason for medical travel may also be motivated based on self-insured employers including medical travel as part of their plan benefits to employees.
Historically, travel and tourism have not been a core competency of most clinical providers. To support the medical travel experience fully, it is important that clinical providers are aware of and use best practices from both the healthcare and hospitality fields. Making the effort to merge best practices in healthcare and hospitality can promote and support a safer and more convenient travel experience.
Several important recommendations for medical travelers and providers have been included below:
Know Your Destination. Know what is going on in the destination you have selected. Is there political, safety, public health matters or holidays occurring that may interrupt your travel plans or require additional preparation from the medical traveler or intended provider? Some great resources to consider are the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention along with destination specific tourism websites.
Consequences in Itinerary Changes. It is common for medical travelers to interact with many vendors such as hotels, transportation, airlines – in addition to the healthcare organization, unless their medical trip is being managed solely by the receiving facility or a facilitator. From a financial standpoint, it is very important to understand what constitutes reasons for cancellations and refunds as well as any increase in expected charges for changes.
Every Medical Question is IMPORTANT. Medical travel creates a unique scenario where clinical providers are often assessing and/or prepping a patient prior to an actual visual or physical examination. Any questions a medical traveler may have – along with an organization being proactive in sharing information about an expected procedure – is critically important to a successful medical travel outcome.
Familiarity with Culture and Language. Medical travelers need patient education materials in their language of choice or primary language to be adequately informed. Providers and healthcare organizations also require medical information in their language of priority. The importance of contextually appropriate and accurate information in medical travel cannot be emphasized enough. Healthcare organizations are encouraged to ensure contextual appropriate information considers the cultural appropriateness of information as well.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected. While the field of medicine comes with its inherent risks, we all know the travel industry can provide its fair share of surprises. From cancelled flights to overbooked hotels, patients are at the mercy of hundreds of variables that can impact their medical trip. There may also be circumstances when a physician will recommend a longer hospital stay than was originally anticipated. This could be due to a medical complication or simply because the patient is not healing as quickly as expected. In other instances a physician may ask the patient to spend a few extra days in their hotel recuperating. In either case it is important for medical travelers to be aware that they may be responsible for additional charges, especially if they do not have insurance coverage. The inclusion of travel insurance specific to medical emergencies, flight cancellations, and lost luggage, among many other possibilities is highly encouraged for all medical travelers.