Accreditation in Medical Travel Becoming a Key Differentiator for Healthcare Providers

Palm Beach Gardens, FL, April 25, 2018 –(PR.com)— Vejthani Hospital (https://www.vejthani.com/) in Bangkok, Thailand has been awarded a three-year term of “Accreditation with Excellence” by the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program (http://globalhealthcareaccreditation.com/) for its Medical Travel Services Program.

Numerous reports including recent ones by Healthgrades, Accenture and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicate that a high-quality patient experience is important to patients and can positively impact both a patient’s wellbeing as we as a healthcare provider’s finances. For healthcare providers treating medical travelers, the patient experience is especially important due to its complexity and must be carefully managed both inside and outside the clinical setting. Medical travelers face unique challenges that impact the patient experience including language and cultural barriers and difficulties related to travel and orientation in a foreign environment.

In 2016, the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program was established with the goal of enhancing the patient experience for medical travelers across the entire Medical Travel Care Continuum. GHA provides concrete and measurable value to patients by ensuring that the hospital or clinic has instituted processes that are customized to the medical travelers’ unique needs and expectations and are constantly monitored for improvement. Additionally, GHA provides healthcare organizations with a unique opportunity to not only acquire skills and competencies designed to strengthen their medical travel services, but also impact business performance. GHA has accredited internationally recognized healthcare providers in a number of countries including the United States, Mexico, Croatia, and Thailand.

Vejathani Hospital is the second hospital accredited by the GHA program in Thailand. According to Dr. Soucksakit, Chief Executive Officer at Vejthani Hospital, “As an international hospital, we provide high-quality care and a superior customer experience based on international standards. We have validated our clinical expertise by previously achieving Joint Commission International accreditation, including certifications for five Clinical Care Programs. Most recently, we had the distinction of achieving “Accreditation with Excellence” by Global Healthcare Accreditation, which focuses on enhancing the medical travel care continuum for traveling patients. GHA accreditation was the missing piece which affirms our pride to be an exceptional care provider to all medical travelers along their journey.”

Karen Timmons, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Healthcare Accreditation Program stated, “We congratulate Vejthani Hospital for achieving Accreditation with Excellence and for continually striving to deliver high quality and culturally competent care to its diverse patient populations. Traveling patients and payers are increasingly demanding a high quality patient experience. GHA seeks to assure that the patient is actively engaged and that the organization is proactive in managing cultural sensitivities and communication at each touch point along this Medical Travel Care Continuum.  With a focus on the entire medical travel care continuum, patient experience and sustainable business practices – GHA seeks to provide both short term and long term value to our clients, whom we view as strategic partners.”

Additionally, GHA reviews business functions and processes related to medical travel. Because GHA focuses on the entire Medical Travel Care Continuum, those business functions within an organization that impact the medical travel program, such as marketing, finance, and technology are enhanced.

According to Dr. Somporn Kumphang, Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Expert Group and GHA’s representative in Thailand, “Healthcare providers in Thailand understand GHA’s unique value in improving the patient experience both inside and outside the clinical setting and how it complements other clinical accreditations. Vejthani Hospital is one of Thailand’s premier healthcare providers, yet it was not content to rest on past accomplishments. Instead, the hospital worked hard to prepare for GHA accreditation and ensure its services and protocols align with the needs and expectations of its many traveling patient populations. I am excited about the future of medical travel in Thailand, one of the world’s top medical travel destinations, and GHA’s role in ensuring medical travelers have a safe and high-quality patient experience.”

About Vejthani Hospital:

Serving over 300,000 patients from over 100 countries annually with over 200 inpatient beds, Vejthani Hospital was established in 1994 and is one of the leading private international hospitals in Thailand. The hospital boasts over 300 specialists across multiple specialties, providing a comprehensive range of medical services. For more information about Vejthani Hospital, contact: +66(0)2-734-0000 ext.2812 or email: int_onlinemkt@vejthani.com.

About the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program:

The Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program is an independent accrediting body that seeks to improve the patient experience and excellence of care received by patients who travel for their medical care and treatment, whether within their own country or internationally. The GHA program complements existing national and international clinical accreditation programs. While these programs traditionally focus on the clinical aspects of care for the entire organization, GHA conducts a deep review of the International or Global Patient Services program, or the entity within an organization that serves the medical travel patient. GHA also provides advisory and custom education services for organizations interested in improving their medical travel program and/or business performance.

Organizations interested in The Global Healthcare Accreditation Program can make a request at info@ghaccreditation.com |Tel US 001.561.327.9557 |www.GlobalHealthcareAccreditation.com

 

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

The Different Faces of Patient Advocacy in Medical Travel

Imagine for a moment that you had to seek medical care in another country or even another region of your own country. What concerns would you have? What information would you want? What services would you need? How would you and your companion or family want to be treated?

Each year, hundreds of thousands of patients travel for medical care to destinations around the globe.[1] Whether they are traveling from Nigeria to Germany, Myanmar to Thailand, Saudi Arabia to the United States, Canada to Costa Rica or from Alabama to Cleveland, medical travelers require many support mechanisms to ensure they have a successful treatment outcome and a high-quality patient experience.

The role of the patient advocate

In many healthcare settings, patients often have the support of patient advocates. These are individuals that act as representatives for patients who require assistance with their health care needs. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, patient advocates can provide support in a number of ways including[2]:

  • Clarifying a patient’s options for hospitals, doctors, diagnostic tests and procedures or treatment choices.
  • Getting information or asking specific questions
  • Writing down information that patients receive from their caregivers, as well as any questions they may have.
  • Assuring that the patient’s wishes are carried out when the patient may not be able to express these.

Patient advocacy, in essence, is the primary driver of all aspects of quality improvement. From patient management to communication and education and everything in between, the patient advocate is tasked with ensuring that the patient’s best interests are being looked after.

The importance of patient advocacy during medical travel

The role of the patient advocate is particularly important in the context of medical travel due to the complex nature of procuring healthcare across borders. Depending on the patient’s particular circumstances, he or she may need to:

  • obtain medical records;
  • complete forms or questionnaires;
  • get medical tests done;
  • determine if the destination healthcare provider is the right one for their needs (including vetting the physician);
  • understand financial obligations;
  • procure a passport and/or visa; and
  • reserve flights and accommodation.

All of the above needs to be done before traveling to the destination healthcare provider and while often facing language and cultural barriers. Travel offers up other challenges, so by the time the patient reaches the hotel or the hospital, they can be forgiven for feeling a little disoriented and stressed out. Once patients arrive at the hospital or clinic, they may have challenges orienting themselves if signage and wayfinding are not available in their language (or even if they are), they may require assistance getting pre-operative tests done or even completing an informed consent before their treatment.

Healthcare providers should keep in mind that medical travelers often have little or no knowledge about the medical travel process or the procedures or protocols used by overseas hospitals. Therefore significant hand-holding throughout the medical travel care continuum is required to ensure that the patient’s needs and expectations are met.

Everyone in your organization is a potential patient advocate

Patient representatives or navigators are often assigned by healthcare providers as the primary individuals tasked with supporting medical travelers and their companions during their stay at the hospital. As we have seen, however, traveling patients require support not only in the healthcare setting, but at all touch points along the medical travel care continuum. In essence, this means that every person interacting with the patient has the opportunity to function as a patient advocate. From the call center or international patient staff helping with preparation and planning, to the transportation driver, hotel staff, patient navigator, nurses, physicians, receptionists, food staff, security guards and especially the patient’s companion(s) – all should feel equipped and responsible for supporting the traveling patient’s needs. Therefore, anyone who may come into contact with medical travelers should be trained or at least informed about the patient’s needs and expectations.

With patient experience being such an important factor in the perception patients have of healthcare providers, patient advocacy – in all its dimensions – will become even more important and a key differentiator for hospitals competing on a global scale.

[1] Patients Beyond Borders valued  market size as USD 45.5-72 billion,with an annual growth rate of 15-25%.  Retrieved  at https://patientsbeyondborders.com/medical-tourism-statistics-facts April 26, 2018

[2] Role of the Patient Advocate. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Retrieved at http://www.npsf.org/?page=patientadvocate on April 22, 2018.

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.

 

 

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

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.

Designing the Patient Experience for Medical Travelers

Walt Disney once said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” [1]

This is sage advice for any business but it is especially important for healthcare providers who are tasked daily with caring for people who are often at their most vulnerable due to illness or serious medical conditions. Most healthcare providers would like to provide their customers with the best experience possible. However, in some instances they may have not taken the time to understand the unique needs and expectations of certain patient populations. Traveling patients are particularly vulnerable due to the challenges they may face seeking care in a faraway region or country.

Healthcare providers can mitigate the hardships medical travelers face by designing the patient experience so it aligns with their unique needs and expectations. When doing so, however, it is important to look at the entire Medical Travel Care Continuum from the patient’s perspective and identify the “pain points” or barriers that hinder a positive patient experience and eliminate these.

Let us take a look at the medical travel care continuum below and highlight some potential pain points for medical travelers. 

  • Service and destination selection
    (Pain points):

    • How do I ensure this healthcare provider (perhaps among many others) is the right one for my specific needs?
    • Am I comfortable with the physician or medical team?
    • How much will my treatment cost?
    • Am I comfortable with the destination?
  • Information sharing (usually occurs during and after “Service and destination selection”)
    (Pain points):

    • Do I have timely access to the information I need?
    • Can I understand what the healthcare provider is communicating to me and do they understand me?
    • Does the destination physician listen to me and value my concerns and opinions about the proposed treatment plan?
    • How is the privacy of my health information safeguarded?
  • Arrival & Accommodation
    (Pain points):

    • What if I miss my hotel pick-up?
    • Does the hotel accommodate my unique needs as a recovering patient?
    • Will I get charged extra if my companion needs to use the hospital’s transportation to get back and forth between the hotel and hospital?
    • Will my companion get board at the hotel?
  • Admission, Treatment & Discharge
    (Pain points):

    • Who will meet me at the hospital?
    • This hospital is huge and I don’t understand the signage. How do I find my way to admission?
    • Will the medical and nursing staff understand my language?
    • Will my religious needs be met?
    • Who will keep my companion informed while I am undergoing surgery or treatment?
    • What if I have a medical complication, who will pay for it?
    • I don’t understand what I am supposed to do with these medications at the hotel
  • Accommodation, Follow-up & Departure
    (Pain points):

    • I cannot get around the room in this wheelchair.
    • What if I have a medical emergency?
    • What about my special diet?
    • When do I have physical therapy?
    • I don’t think I will be able to sit in a middle seat for the entire flight home.
    • What if I have a complication when I return home, who will care for me?

These are just a few sample pain points. You can easily come up with many more if you take the time to talk to traveling patients and elicit feedback through surveys and comment/complaint boxes. Now take a closer look at each of the pain points in the “Service and Destination Selection” stage to see how these can be mitigated.

  • How do I ensure this healthcare provider (perhaps among many others) is the right one for my specific needs?
    • Do you include physician CV’s or profiles on your website or are they provided to patients on request?
    • Do you provide potential patients with detailed information in their language about the various treatments you offer?
  • Am I comfortable with the physician or medical team?
    • Do you arrange a conference call between the physician and the patient? Does the physician speak the patient’s language? If not, are there interpreters available?
    • Do you physicians respond in a timely manner to patient inquiries?
  • How much will my treatment cost?
    • Do you provide patients with a price estimate or package price prior to travel?
    • Are you transparent about what’s included and not included in the price?
    • Are you clear about who is responsible for extra expenses?
  • Am I comfortable with the destination?
    • Do you alert patients about health or legal requirements for travel to the destination (such as vaccines or visas)?
    • Do you provide patients with information about lodging, transportation and leisure activities in the destination region or country?

As you do this exercise, keep in mind that the specifics of your Medical Travel Care Continuum can vary depending on different patient populations or factors such as patient referral source, treatment type and patient point of entry. For example, if your patients are being referred by an embassy, insurance company or employer, “Service and Destination Selection” may be influenced more by the payer than the patient (who may trust the former’s experience and relationship with the provider), which would likely influence the patient pain points (you may not need to convince the patient you are a great option). In the same way, a tourist who gets injured and comes through the ER would have a different care continuum from the patient who has pre-planned his or her surgery months in advance.

Finally, go through each stage of your traveling patients’ Medical Travel Care Continuum, as described earlier, to identify pain points and the policies, protocols and/or services you will need to implement to neutralize these. As you do, you will find you are designing a patient experience that is aligned with the needs of your traveling patient populations.

 

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

[1] https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/walt-disney-inspirational-quotes/

7 Medical Travel Myths and Realities – From a Healthcare Provider’s Perspective

Back in the day (early 2000’s), mentioning the words medical travel in any discussion about healthcare usually triggered two types of reactions:

  1. The forward neck jerk (think of a hen), furrowed brow, slack-jawed…Whaa??? (i.e., I do not have a clue what you’re talking about).
  2. Slowly nodding ascent with a growing smirk (i.e., I think you’re pulling my leg but I’m not quite sure).

Fast forward to today and the above reactions have almost disappeared. Instead, they are being replaced by C. “Yes, I heard about medical travel on the news the other day” or “A co-worker of mine just came back from Mexico where she had incredibly inexpensive dental treatment.”

Medical travel (more popularly known as medical tourism) has come a long way since the Greeks and Romans sought out healing temples and hot baths to cure their ailments. It is now a growing industry with patients from around the globe traveling across borders or overseas for treatments. A quick search on Google brings up nearly 5 million hits for the term medical tourism including topics such as: ”Medical Tourism Booms in Asia,” “Top 10 Medical Tourism Destinations in the World,” “How AXA Sees the Future of Medical Tourism,” “Uganda Seeks to Deepen Medical Tourism Cooperation,” and “Switzerland Seeks to Tap Medical Tourism.”

However, popularity does not necessarily breed understanding. There is still a lot of misinformation or misconceptions about medical travel. In this article, we will look at some possible misconceptions about medical travel from the perspective of healthcare providers – particularly those who are not actively engaged in treating traveling patients.

  1. Medical travel is a fad that has come and gone

The dynamics of patient flow differ from region to region and can be influenced at any given time by population demographics, socioeconomic factors, government policies, and political realities, among other factors. However, the reality is medical travel is growing. In a 2016 report issued by VISA (Visa, 2014), the size of global medical tourism industry was estimated at between 45.5 – 72 billion UDS and projected to grow up to 25% year-over-year for the next 10 years as an estimated three to four percent of the world’s population will travel internationally for healthcare and health-related treatment.[1] Healthcare providers may choose not to actively target medical travelers, however, they should not ignore that the globalization of healthcare is providing unprecedented opportunities for hospitals and clinics to expand their service lines and to penetrate new markets.

  1. Medical tourism is an easy way for our hospital to bring in some quick revenue

If this were true, many more hospitals around the world would be involved in medical travel. The reality is putting a solid medical travel program together takes a lot of work and is not something that happens in three or even six months. Like any important business initiative, it takes planning, focus and long-term commitment to succeed. To achieve success, healthcare provides must understand the needs and expectations of traveling patients, promote or develop a service line that is attractive to the traveling patient populations they are targeting, and implement the protocols, policies and services to address their target markets’ needs. Most importantly, these initiative must be buttressed by clinical excellence and the ability to deliver a high-quality patient experience.

  1. Medical travel is always international

While medical travel is often discussed in the context of traveling abroad, in many instances patients are traveling for care within their own countries. In the U.S., an increasing number of self-funded employers are contracting directly with Centers of Excellence so as to improve healthcare outcomes and reduce costs. Many of their employees must travel for medical care to hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic (OH), Mercy Hospital Springfield (MO) and others.  Large countries such as China, Russia and India also experience internal medical travel or what is sometimes called domestic medical travel. And while these domestic patients may not experience all the same challenges as international medical travelers with regards to language and cultural barriers (or at least not to the same degree), they still may require assistance with travel, accommodation and orientation while in the hospital or clinic.

  1. Traveling patients receive preferential care compared to local patients

To the casual observer, it may appear that medical travelers are receiving preferential or special treatment compared to local patients. For instance, medical travelers may get assistance with travel, hotel reservations, airport pickup and transportation, a fast-track admission process, access to a private lounge and sometimes an advocate or healthcare coordinator who helps them navigate the hospital’s facilities and coordinates appointments. While this certainly may seem like special treatment, the reality is that traveling patients share certain unique circumstances and needs that must be addressed in order to ensure a safe and high-quality patient experience. These include but are not limited to:

  • They must travel to access medical services.
  • Diagnosis or corroboration of the diagnosis is often performed remotely.
  • They may be more susceptible to bringing or contracting infectious diseases.
  • They may not be familiar with the medical travel destination, its laws, language(s), customs and culture.
  • Orientation at the destination and inside the hospital may be difficult for them.
  • They may arrive overly stressed and fearful simply because this is a strange situation to them.
  • They will often undergo a shortened in-country recovery process after surgery or treatment.
  • They may spend part of their recovery time in a hotel setting.
  • They may have to travel long distances within a relatively short time after surgery.
  • They may need additional care or monitoring after they return home.

Without customized services it would be very difficult – and perhaps unsafe, for patients to coordinate care in other countries.

  1. We don’t need to set up a special program to target medical travelers, international patients can find us just fine

This approach may work if your organization has no interest in targeting foreign patients or if you are content receiving the occasional medical tourist or injured tourist. Some hospitals may have one or more doctors on staff who are attracting medical travelers on their own. However, if your goal is to develop a sustainable medical travel program that is growing and facilitates a high-quality patient experience across the entire medical travel continuum, you will want to develop a formal medical travel program and track key performance indicators relevant to medical travel patients. You cannot improve what you are not measuring. This does not mean that you must immediately hire or assign 10 staff members to an international office, revamp your website and pour fifty thousand dollars into international marketing campaigns. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may decide to start with one person overseeing all medical travelers. What it does require is developing a strategic plan and identifying the steps you need to take to reach your goals.

  1. The primary reason for medical travel is savings

There are a number of factors that motivate patients to travel for medical care, these include savings, better quality, unavailability of certain treatments due to government restrictions or lack of medical expertise, and quicker access to care. The primary reason for seeking treatment will be dependent on each patient’s particular circumstances, however, certain markets or regions are often identified with certain motivating factors. For example, anecdotal evidence and several reports suggest that:

  • Savings is the primary motivating factor for medical travelers from the U.S. [2]
  • Quick access to treatments is a main motivating factor for Canadian medical travelers.[3]
  • Better quality and/or unavailability of certain treatments is the main motivating factor for patients from China, Russia, some GCC nations and several African nations. [4] [5] [6]

So while savings may be the motivating factor that is most highlighted – at least in the West, it is certainly not the primary reason for medical travel in many parts of the world.

  1. We have a national or international accreditation, therefore there is no need for external oversight in medical travel

It is extremely important to pursue a national and/or recognized international accreditation to ensure organizations have evidenced-based clinical and patient safety protocols in place. However, it is also important to understand the difference between a clinical-focused accreditation such as Joint Commission International or Accreditation Canada, and an accreditation focused on medical travel such as Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA).  The GHA program complements existing national and international clinical accreditation programs. While these programs traditionally focus on the clinical aspects of care for the entire organization, GHA conducts a deep review of the medical travel or International patient services program, focusing on three main competencies: Patient Experience, Sustainable Business Processes and Care Management. Most importantly, GHA provides concrete and measurable value to patients by ensuring that the hospital or clinic has instituted processes customized to the medical travelers’ unique needs and expectations – and are constantly monitoring them for improvement.

For healthcare providers who are unfamiliar with medical travel or who are seeking to learn more about this growing market, we hope the information in this article provides a little more clarity about the realities of the industry, the challenges facing traveling patients, and some of the steps needed to develop a strong medical travel program.

[1] Visa. (2014). Mapping the Future of Global Travel and Tourism [Visa Projection]. Retrieved from https://usa.visa.com/dam/VCOM/global/partner-with-us/documents/global-travel-and-tourism-insights-by-visa.pdf

[2] 2013 MTA Medical Tourism Survey Report. http://www.medicaltourismassociation.com/en/2013-mta-survey-report.html

[3] Medical Tourism: Push and Pull Factors (2014). http://www.healthcareresearchcenter.org/medical-tourism-push-and-pull-factors/

[4] Rich Chinese Seek Healthcare Overseas 2015 http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/932404.shtml

[5] Germany Has Designs on Arab Medical Tourism Patients. (2015). http://www.medicaltourismmag.com/germany-has-designs-on-arab-medical-tourism-patients/

[6] Nigeria Spends $1 Billion on Outbound Medical Tourism. (2014). https://www.imtj.com/news/nigeria-spends-1-billion-outbound-medical-tourism/

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

When It Comes to Healthcare, Would You Choose Compassion Or Better Pricing?

Say your doctor informed you that you are in need of a surgical procedure not covered by your insurance or one having a high deductible. Would you choose a surgeon who is warm and empathizes with your concerns but pay a higher price for your surgery? Or would you choose a surgeon who is cold and disinterested but charges you a lower price?

Apparently compassion trumps pricing for most people – according to a recent survey[1] published by HealthTap, a US-based Health technology company. In the survey, 85% of patients reported that compassion was very important to them, whereas only 31% of respondents cited cost as being very important to them when making a healthcare decision. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 94% of doctors who were surveyed reported that “being compassionate makes their patients more likely to follow their advice, thus demonstrably improving health outcomes.”

Seeing the importance that patients and physicians place on compassion, it may be helpful to explore what the necessary conditions are for compassion to occur and how these conditions are relevant to the medical travel patient.

I would submit that two conditions are often necessary before compassion can occur. Let’s work backwards: 

  ???    >   ???   >    Compassion.

In an article titled “The Difference Between Empathy and Compassion Is Everything,” the author states:

“Empathy is a gateway to compassion. It’s understanding how someone feels, and trying    to imagine how that might feel for you — it’s a mode of relating. Compassion takes it further. It’s feeling what that person is feeling, holding it, accepting it, and taking some kind of action.” [2]

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” However, empathy is of little value unless we act on it. As a healthcare organization, you may feel for those patients that must travel from thousands of miles away, to a new environment, language and culture; who experience anxiety about their medical condition, finances and the outcome of their treatment. However, if they are forced into a care continuum that has been developed for local patients, your empathy will have little impact on their care experience. Compassion is the active manifestation of Empathy.

???    >    Empathy   >    Compassion

If empathy is a prerequisite for compassion, how do healthcare providers achieve empathy in their daily practice?

A clue can be found in the quote cited previously: “It’s understanding how someone feels and trying to imagine how that might feel for you — it’s a mode of relating.” You can’t truly understand, imagine or relate to someone unless you get to know them and their unique circumstances, anxieties and wants.  Understanding is the key to empathy.

Understanding    >   Empathy    >   Compassion

In an insightful article[3] about empathy in medical travel, published by Dr. Nizar Zein, Chairman Global Patient Services at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, Dr. Zein writes: “Empathy, though sometimes innate, requires effective communication and shared experiences. Neither of these two requirements is easily achievable in the care of foreign patients.” In other words an effort needs to be made to understand the unique circumstances and needs of the medical travel patient. This should be done both in real-time interactions between hospital staff and patients (paying attention and listening) as well as in the strategic planning of your Medical Travel Care Continuum – e.g. in the processes, protocols and services you will develop for your medical travel program. Healthcare providers should be especially sensitive to cultural and language differences, needs related to travel and logistics, helping to orient the traveling patient and family members in a new environment and how all these elements and others might impact clinical guidelines and services.

Understanding how important compassion is to the overall medical travel experience and how it can even lead to improved healthcare outcomes should inspire healthcare providers to prioritize programs and initiatives that promote meaningful patient interactions and ultimately lead to a better understanding of the needs and expectations of traveling patients.

[1] Survey Reveals 85% Percent of Patients Choose Compassion Over Pricing When Choosing a Doctor. February 6, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180206005704/en/Survey-Reveals-85-Percent-Patients-Choose-Compassion. Retrieved February 12, 2018.

[2] Chandler, L., The Difference Between Empathy and Compassion Is Everything 2016. http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/compassion-is-an-action-not-an-emotion. Retrieved February 12, 2018.

[3] Zein, N. Seeking medical care abroad: A challenge to empathy. Cleveland Clinic. November 2016. https://www.mdedge.com/ccjm/article/120392/hospital-medicine/seeking-medical-care-abroad-challenge-empathy. Retrieved February 13, 2018.

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

Financial Burdens, Language Barriers and Hospital Gowns – 3 Takeaways on Improving the Patient Experience

This past week we were gratified to read three news articles highlighting different activities or issues that impact the patient experience. While none of the articles dealt specifically with medical travel, all focused on values that GHA promotes in its standards. Below we provide a brief synopsis of each article and some key takeaways for healthcare providers treating traveling patients.

In the first article titled: “The case for standardizing best practices in discussing a patient’s financial obligation,” the author advocates for standardizing processes and protocols related to provider-patient financial interactions as a way to improve the patient experience. According to the author, “The road to patient satisfaction is paved with all things that start from an accurate preauthorization, a thorough financial counseling session or estimate, a courteous front of house service through the medical care itself, all the way to getting the bill that you expect and the billing department’s previous projections holding true.” Standardizing best practices for communicating with patients is key to achieving these objectives. These recommendations are even more critical when we apply them to medical travel patients and the unique challenges they face during provider-patient financial interactions. There is the increased risk of miscommunication, misrepresentation or lack of trust stemming from distance, cultural/language differences, the variances of currencies between countries, and the frequent use of intermediaries. Healthcare providers treating medical travelers should communicate in advance to ensure patients are aware of payment options, price validity, and cancelation and refund policies.

The second article: How Cultural, Language Barriers Impact Positive Patient Experience focuses on recent research which demonstrates how culture and language barriers negatively impact the patient experience. Researches sought to identify key trends that both “build up and detract from the patient experience.” According to the article, patients indicated that language barriers “added another layer of complexity and difficulty regarding basic interaction with doctors and staff,” and “a general concern as to whether doctors and patients fully understood each other when having to work through an interpreter.” Some of the patients surveyed stated that providers who attempted to speak their language and used non-verbal clues were viewed more favorably.  While this particular research dealt specifically with local patient populations from different culture and language backgrounds, many of the same challenges apply to traveling patients.  For healthcare providers, strategies to reduce cultural and language barriers include:

  • Employing a diverse, culturally, and linguistically competent workforce.
  • Providing new staff orientation, ongoing in-service training and professional development activities for all staff.
  • Hiring on-site interpreters or using bilingual clinical and non-clinical staff.
  • Using multilingual wayfinding and signage.

While it may not always be realistic for a healthcare provider’s staff to speak all the languages of medical travelers receiving treatment, GHA encourages healthcare providers to design and support cultural appropriate services and processes that meet the identified needs of the target population groups served by the medical travel program.

The final article: Why do hospitals bare butts when there are better gowns around?” literally exposes the bare facts about hospital gowns and how they impact the patient experience. While the traditional tie-in-the-back gown is still a dominant presence in most hospitals, the trend towards patient-centric care has motivated a growing number of providers to look at gowns that provide more privacy and comfort. One such gown mentioned in the article was developed by Bridget Duffy, Cleveland Clinic’s first and former Chief Experience Officer. During her time at the Cleveland Clinic, Duffy developed a more patient-centric hospital gown which she has since refined and helped launch as a line of hospital gowns for the health apparel company Care+Wear.  According to the article:

“The gown resembles a kimono, wrapping the patient and tying in the front. At the back, the gown splits just below the patient’s buttocks, and the fabric overlaps broadly to prevent accidental exposure.”

Duffy states, “The first thing hospitals do is strip patients of their dignity…but hospitals are increasingly paying attention to patients’ experience, and that includes what they wear.” Also quoted in the article is research physician Harlan Krumholz of Yale University who states, “It’s time to truly treat patients with the respect they deserve and not put them in a dependent, submissive position — starting with a gown that can be a symbol of becoming a faceless patient rather than an individual with a name and a history and a specific need.”

Better hospital gowns are a benefit to all patients. However, hospital gowns that offer better comfort and more privacy are especially valued by patients (particularly women) whose religious and/or cultural backgrounds place a strong emphasis on modesty. Healthcare providers with traveling patient populations that fit this profile should consider how their gowns and any other practices impact patient satisfaction.

Perhaps the lesson we can take home from these three articles is this: every detail, no matter how insignificant it may appear from the provider’s perspective, impacts the patient experience in one way or another. Whether it is a staff member discussing the hospital’s financial policies with a traveling patient, an airport pick-up driver who may not be fluent in the patient’s language, or the type of gowns a hospital provides to its patients, all of these elements influence the patient experience and have a cumulative impact (good or bad) on a patient’s perception of your organization.

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

Mobile App Used to Enhance the Patient Experience

Getting lost on a hospital’s sprawling campus or labyrinth of hallways may soon be a thing of the past. A healthcare provider in New York State recently implemented a wayfinding app that allows patients to quickly navigate to any area of the hospital or hospital campus. The app works similar to mobile applications such as Waze, used for navigating in automobiles. The patient is able to access a map with the layout of the hospital facilities, view nearby amenities and even see the estimated time to reach the desired location. In addition to these helpful features, the app can be used to schedule appointments, educate patients about different phases of the treatment process and elicit feedback. Healthcare providers caring for traveling patients would benefit from an app like this or similar tools (particularly if they are adapted to different languages and cultures) as they can facilitate orientation inside the hospital physical environment, help with communication and education, and ultimately improve patient engagement. To read the entire article click here.

Airports, Planes and Patients: Don’t let what you can’t control, negatively impact patient satisfaction

For someone who is ill or suffers from a serious medical condition, the act of preparing for surgery or treatment can be debilitating both mentally and physically. In the best of cases the person may face multiple doctor appointments, medical exams, financial burdens, and perhaps even doubts about the ultimate success of the treatment, all while attempting to balance work and family commitments.

When we talk about medical travelers, one must also add the stress and anxiety of travel to the mix. We know that healthcare providers are experts at supporting patients while they are within the walls of the hospital or clinic, however, not all are prepared to do the same while patients are traveling to and from their facility. Airports and flying can be especially challenging for any patient, particularly those with special needs or who have never travelled before. What can healthcare providers do to promote safety, increase comfort and ultimately ease the stress of travel?

Patients with special needs

Some of the individuals traveling to your hospital or clinic will be patients with special needs. They may have to travel with wheelchairs or oxygen tanks, or possibly require the assistance of a nurse or family member. While most persons with special needs do not require medical clearance before travelling, some airlines may ask for evidence of fitness to travel in order to ensure the patient is able to attend to his or her personal needs. In these cases, it is helpful for healthcare providers to provide patients with a ‘travelling letter’ that gives a brief description of their condition, disability or physical limitations and what type of assistance they might need.

Important information to convey to patients with special needs

Prior to travel, inform patients that they should inquire with their airline about:

  • Available assistance at check-in, while moving around the terminal, during boarding and disembarking. Most airlines will provide assistance to passengers during these three phases including providing wheelchair assistance, mobility assistance – getting in and out of the plane, and assistance with battery-powered medical devices. Patients who require a wheelchair or other mobility assistance should advise the airline of their need during booking and no later than 48 hours prior to the flight.
  • Airline policy on taking equipment such as wheelchairs, portable machines, batteries, respirators or oxygen. Some carriers require that travellers contact the airline to confirm if a given medical device is approved for travel. In the U.S., for example, passengers can only board with portable oxygen concentrators (POC’s) that are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).[1] Restrictions for other devices can vary depending on the airline. Patients should advise the airline in advance if they plan to take their own wheelchair or other mobility aid as most commercial airplanes only have room in the cargo hold for one folding wheelchair. [2]
  • Special meals. Most airlines can provide a wide variety of meals including vegetarian, Kosher, Muslim, diabetic, and low sodium. However, these should be requested at least 24 hours prior to take-off.

Medications

Traveling patients are apt to carry medications to and/or from the medical travel destination. However, patients may not be aware that medications are subject to special screening protocols or that some types of medications may even be restricted in certain countries.

International laws

Drugs available as a prescription in one country may be illegal or highly regulated in other countries. It goes without saying that the patient experience will be seriously compromised if the patient faces drug charges on your watch.

  • Patients should be advised to inform the destination healthcare provider of the names of any medications they will be bringing into the country.
  • Additionally, healthcare providers should ensure that any medications prescribed to the patient after treatment (prior to departure) are legal in the patient’s country of origin and the countries they may pass through in transit.
  • It is also recommended that the treating physician provide each patient with a letter stating what medical conditions he or she has and what medications were prescribed, including their generic names.

Packing and security screening

Flight delays and lost luggage are not an uncommon occurrence. Patients should be advised to stow their medications and prescriptions in their carry-on luggage to ensure quick access and reduce the possibility of losing items. Medications should also be labeled and placed in a separate zip lock bag for security screening.[3]

Airport security

Passing through airport security can be daunting even for seasoned travelers. There are the seemingly interminable lines, the shouts and instructions from stone-faced security personnel, the frantic struggle to pull off shoes and discard water bottles, and finally the hulking machines that scan our bodies. To make this process less intimidating for patients, let them know in advance what to expect and what actions they can take to reduce chances for delays or additional screenings. This includes:

  • Informing security officers prior to screening if they have metal implants, such as artificial knees or hips.
  • Informing security officers prior to screening if they using a prosthetic limb or other medical device such as an insulin pump or ostomy bag.
  • Packing medications separately in a zip lock bag and declaring them prior to screening. Note that medically necessary liquids are allowed through a checkpoint in any amount once they have been screened.

Airline seating

Does it seem like your legs have grown several inches every time you settle into a seat in economy class? Actually you are not that far off. Airlines are continually looking for ways to squeeze more passengers onto each aircraft. One way to do this is to shorten the space between rows. According to reports, over the last several years the space between seats (between your seat and the seat in front of you) has decreased on average from 35 inches to 31 inches and on some airlines even to 28 inches. [4] For patients with limited mobility or who have just undergone surgery, this phenomenon is not only uncomfortable but potentially dangerous. Conditions such Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – a potentially fatal condition where a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body[5], can occur if passengers sit too long without moving their legs. To reduce these risks and increase passenger comfort, high risk patients should be advised to book one of the following options (in addition to taking any medications prescribed by their physician):

  • Business or premium economy class
  • Bulkhead seats
  • Aisle seats with lifting arm rests

The first two options offer more leg room and ease of mobility, while the third option offers patients more opportunities for stretching their legs and ease of access and exit. Note that morbidly obese patients should be informed that they may require two seats.

Arrival at destination

These days some large airports almost resemble small cities with their array of restaurants, shops and even hotels. Patients disembarking from their flights can easily get lost or disoriented as they attempt to navigate the ongoing rush of passengers heading to immigration and customs. Late night and early morning arrivals can be especially challenging as information kiosks and other services may be closed. It is also important to keep in mind that traveling patients may not be familiar with the language and culture of the destination; this, couple with exhaustion from the flight can make patients feel even more disoriented. What can you as a hospital do to help?

  • Depending on the size and complexity of your city’s airport, it can be helpful to provide patients in advance with a map and detailed wayfinding information to help expedite their exit from the airport and ensure they quickly locate appropriate transportation options or the prescribed meet and greet location.
  • Ask an employee from your organization who is already traveling, to pay careful attention to the airport arrival process and to watch out for any challenges patients may experience.
  • Ask traveling patients if they are experiencing any challenges.

Remember, it’s all about reducing obstacles and making the process easier for your patients. The more data you gather, the better decisions you can make to improve the traveling patient’s arrival experience.

Don’t let what you can’t control become a barrier to achieving patient satisfaction

GHA advocates for improving the patient experience at all stages of the medical travel care continuum both within and outside the clinical environment. And while it is acknowledged that healthcare providers cannot control all activities or interactions that occur during the travel process, they do have the ability and responsibility to 1. Identify situations that have the potential to negatively impact patient safety and the patient experience and 2. Proactively educate traveling patients to better prepare and deal with these situations. Ultimately the travel process is an important component of the medical traveler’s experience and, as such, should be rigorously monitored to ensure it does not become a barrier to achieving patient satisfaction with a hospital’s medical travel services.

[1] Wattles, J,. Judges Order FAA to Review Airplane Seat Sizes. CNN Money 2017. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/29/news/companies/faa-airline-seat-sizes/index.html on January 23, 2018.

[2] Mayo Clinic Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352557 on January 23, 2018.

[3] USA Today, Rules for Flying with Prescription Drugs. Retrieved at http://traveltips.usatoday.com/rules-flying-prescription-drugs-63212.html on January 23, 2018.

[4] American Airlines – Mobility and Medical Devices. Retrieved from https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/mobility-and-medical-devices.jsp  on January 23, 2018.

[5] Ibid.

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

The Patient Experience Starts on Your Website

6 Strategies to improve the website user experience for medical travelers

First impressions can make or break a potential relationship. For medical travelers, their first impression of your organization often occurs on your website. Consequently, any interactions on your website have the potential to positively or negatively impact the patient experience. Potential challenges for medical travelers include finding or obtaining desired information, navigating and orienting themselves throughout the website and understanding what is being communicated.

The following recommendations are designed to help healthcare providers improve the effectiveness of their website by ensuring its content and functionality is aligned with the needs of medical travelers.

  1. Content and functionality should be relevant to the needs and expectations of medical travelers

This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many healthcare providers are falling short of reaching this goal. Oftentimes a website may have not been created with medical travelers in mind, or management simply does not have a clear idea of the needs and expectations of the different traveling patient populations they are serving. As a general rule, self-pay medical travelers typically go through several different stages in the decision and planning process that require website or other online support. Among these are:

  1. Research;
  2. initiating contact with the provider (which can also be part of the research stage and may or may not lead to a purchase decision); and
  3. trip planning.

Each of these stages should be supported with the appropriate information and website functionality.

Research: During this phase medical travelers are seeking information that will help them determine if a particular medical facility is the right one for their needs. For instance:

  • Detailed information about the medical procedures and treatments being offered including potential risks and complications.
  • Detailed information about physicians including qualifications, experience, education and language proficiency.
  • Quality and safety related information including accreditation of the organization, healthcare indicators and technology.
  • Estimated pricing for treatments and who is responsible for medical complications should they occur
  • Payment methods and cancellation and refund policies.
  • What to expect during their trip.
  • Testimonials from previous patients.

It is important to note that all claims on an organization’s website should be supported by hard data and this data should be available to the patient if requested.

Initiating contact with the provider: If patients are interested, they will want an easy way to communicate with the healthcare provider. To facilitate this it is advisable to include multiple contact methods and interactive functionality that is highly visible and easy to use. For example:

  • Phone numbers (ideally a toll-free or local number in the country where the patient resides)
  • Emails
  • Chat boxes
  • Web forms
  • Social media

Keep in mind that if patients are uploading or sending private health information via your website or a web portal, you should implement the necessary security protocols to protect patients’ private health information (PHI). For instance, a privacy policy, high-level encryption, and password protection are just some examples of strategies used to protect a patients PHI as well as to ensure you are compliant with privacy laws in your country and the patient’s country of residence.

Trip planning: Once the treatment has been confirmed, traveling patients will require information to plan their trip, such as:

  • Destination information including travel alerts, visa information and required vaccines
  • Lab work or tests that need to be done prior to admission
  • Information about appointment including date/time and location
  • Ground transportation options
  • Hotel recommendations and amenities
  • Tourist attractions

It is important to note that potential patients may be looking at multiple hospital websites to compare quality, price and convenience. So the more informative and relevant your content is, the higher the likelihood that a patient will engage with your organization. It is also important to mention that these stages are not always sequential. Patients may prefer to review trip planning information before making a decision or may contact the organization before doing any research. However, these stages have been included as they are a logical and convenient way to visualize the user experience and are helpful in understanding what information or functionality needs to be available for patients. For a better understanding of the needs of traveling patients, take a look at the following article.

2. Ensure your website is adapted to the language and cultural needs of your patients

Over the past decade a growing number of healthcare providers have begun to translate their websites into the language or languages of their international patients and/or traveling patient populations. While this is a good first step, much more needs to be done to ensure your website is “localized” for your target patient populations.

Website localization is the process of adapting an existing website to the local language and culture in the target market. It goes beyond translation to adapt the original (source) language and other site elements to appeal to the customer’s cultural preferences in their own (target) language. [1] According to Nitish Singh, Ph.D, an expert in localization strategies, “Localization takes into account the inherent diversity that exists in international markets and treats individuals as ‘cultural beings’ whose values and behaviors are shaped by the unique culture in which they live.”[2] Localization impacts all website content including text, imagery, color and layout. For example:

Imagery

Art, photographs, icons and symbols are often subjective. Designs that seem attractive to Westerners may be offensive to other cultures. Images of hands positioned using certain gestures, religious symbols and animals can be offensive in some cultures. When including images in your website it is important to do your research.[3]

Color

How color is interpreted can also vary from culture to culture. In Japan, yellow traditionally signifies bravery and wealth. In Thailand it is considered a “lucky” color and was associated with the beloved and recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In China, on the other hand, the color yellow has negative connotations and is often associated with pornography. [4] Therefore, it is important to research colors and potential conflicts if you are not sure of cultural implications.

Layout

People in the West usually scan a website from left to right. However, people from Arabic countries read from right to left. If this is one of you target markets, you will need to change the layout of the section that includes the Arabic translation.  [5]

Additionally, there are legal considerations that should be taken into account when localizing your website. Countries around the world have their own regulations regarding privacy, terms of service, taxes, and data protection. To protect your organization, it is important to ensure that the content you translate is in line with local law.

Finally, few things degrade the quality and professionalism of a website more than misspellings and grammar errors. Take the time to double and triple check your content before putting anything up live.

3. Make it simple

All of us, at one time or another, have visited websites that take forever to load or seemed disorganized and difficult to navigate. Perhaps you click on what looks like a link and nothing happens, or the main navigation menu seems to disappear or change locations.

Don’t make your visitors think. By this I mean that the function or purpose of every element on your website should be obvious to the user. Visitors want to know what they should do immediately and then do it.  They should not have to ask themselves “is this a link?” Or “what’s this button for?” Make links/buttons clear and distinct; keep language clear and simple; don’t use jargon (especially if you are targeting medical travelers) and give examples and support when asking people to provide information. [6]  If your visitors are forced to continually ask themselves questions, then eventually this leads to confusion, and ultimately they are more likely to leave your site.

4. Make your layout and navigation consistent

Layout determines where the text content, navigation, graphic images and other elements are placed on the web pages. If these common website elements are in the same place on every page it means your visitors spend less time trying to use your website and more time engaging with your content. [7] Visitors don’t always land on your home page; the truth is every page on your website is a potential landing page. Therefore, it is important to keep your navigation, typography and the general layout of your site the same from page to page. Don’t make your visitors wonder where they are. If your main navigation menu is on the left then keep it there throughout the site. If you use a certain font to highlight important elements then do so consistently. Doing so will ensure that your layout looks aesthetically pleasing and is convenient and easy for patients to use.

5. Make your website easy to scan

After spending weeks and months carefully crafting the content for your website, it may be tempting to imagine visitors hanging on your every word. The truth is most people will rarely read through all your carefully crafted text. Instead they are much more likely to scan your content looking for relevant pieces of information. Long blocks of text can be intimidating. According to one study, on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely. [8]  Make your content easier to digest by:

  • Breaking up content into shorter paragraphs with clear headings
  • Distinguishing headings by using bold text
  • Adding relevant and helpful links to more comprehensive content (when it makes sense)
  • Using bulleted lists
  • Highlighting keywords
  • Use white space. What’s not on a webpage is sometimes as important as what is not there. Readers don’t always want to fight through a wall of words. [9]

6. Make your website mobile-friendly

In this day and age practically everyone is using mobile phones in one way or another. Google is prioritizing mobile-friendly websites. [10] Increasing numbers of healthcare providers and physicians are communicating with patients via mobile apps. [11] In fact, I am aware of hospitals who receive most of their medical travel patient inquires via mobile platforms such as WhatsApp or WeChat. So if you want to make your customers happy, remain relevant and reach more patients, it makes sense to ensure your website can be easily accessed via mobile phones.

Patient experience needs to expand beyond the walls of the hospital

GHA advocates for a high-quality patient experience across the entire medical travel care continuum. This includes interactions within and outside of the clinical setting. Healthcare providers who are serious about improving the patient experience for medical travelers should not ignore their website; making it user-friendly and adapted to the needs of their traveling patient populations. It is the welcoming face of your organization; a tool for educating and communicating with traveling patients. As such, it impacts patient perceptions and the patient experience at the very start of the patient journey.

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[1] The Definitive Guide to Website Translation. Lionbridge. https://ww1.lionbridge.com/definitive-guide-website-translation/.Retrieved 1/8/18

[2]  Nitish Singh, Ph.D, Localization Strategies for Global E-Business, Copyright © Nitish Singh, 2012, Cambridge University Press.

[3]  The Definitive Guide to Website Translation. Lionbridge. https://ww1.lionbridge.com/definitive-guide-website-translation/. Retrieved 1/8/18

[4] What Colors Mean in Other Cultures. Huffington Post, Jan. 26, 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/smartertravel/what-colors-mean-in-other_b_9078674.html. Retrieved 1/8/18

[5]  How to Conduct Website Localization – Don’t Get Lost in Translation. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/12/how-to-conduct-website-localization/ Retrieved 1/8/18.

[6] The Basics of User Experience Design. Interaction Design Foundation.

[7] Why is Consistency Important in Web Design? 2017. https://laceytechsolutions.co.uk/blog/importance-of-consistency-in-web-design/ Retrieved 01/09/18

[8] Nielsen Norman Group.  https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/. Retrieved 1/4/18

[9] Scanners Vs. Readers: How To Create Web Content That Engages Both Reader Styles. https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/scanners-vs-readers/. Retrieved 01/05/18

[10] A. Woloszyn. 10 Reasons to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly. http://www.webmovementllc.com/2016/03/10-reasons-make-website-mobile-friendly/. Retrieved 1/7/18

[11] 30 Facts and Statistics on Social Media and Healthcare. https://getreferralmd.com/2017/01/30-facts-statistics-on-social-media-and-healthcare/. Retrieved 1/9/18.

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