Don’t Let Money Ruin A Great Medical Travel Experience

For patients, the process of paying for healthcare services is often a stressful one. Will my insurance cover X treatment? What is the deductible and co-pay? Why do costs vary so much from one provider to the other for the same treatment? These same issues are compounded in medical travel due to 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.

To avoid having pricing and financial policies (or a lack thereof) highjack the patient experience, take the following steps:

Be transparent
First and foremost there needs to be transparency in pricing and the terms and conditions that apply. Patients and buyers of healthcare should know up front what treatments or procedure packages include; what the likely charges will be; and what conditions or circumstances could lead to additional expenses. For example, will airport pick-up/drop-off and transfers be included in the cost of the package? If so, how many? What if the companion needs to travel back and forth between the hospital and the hotel? Will this be covered? Are post-discharge medications included? What happens if a patient spends twice the time in surgery than was expected or had a medical complication, who will be responsible for the additional charges?

Granted, not all healthcare providers offer bundled packages (most U.S. hospitals do not – though this is slowly changing), nor is it a simple matter to predict with precision the cost of certain treatments due to the many variables involved (think cancer). Regardless of that fact, our commitment to our patients should motivate us to provide a price range or estimate based on historical data for a particular procedure or treatment and clarify what is included or excluded from their course of treatment. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to provide medical travelers with a realistic assessment of potential costs, while identifying those scenarios that could lead to additional charges.

Consider the payment process from the medical traveler’s perspective
Take a look at your current financial policies. Are they aligned with the needs of medical travelers or were they developed for local patients? If it is the latter, you may need to make some adjustments to reduce the likelihood of negative situations occurring.

The best way to gauge the impact of your financial policies on the medical traveler experience is to solicit candid feedback from your patients. Ask questions, review past patient satisfaction scores and scour your comment boxes. Pay attention to any comments or complaints regarding pricing, billing or the payment process. This is a quick and effective way to identify problem areas or gaps in your financial processes and will give everyone in your organization a broader perspective of what is actually happening rather than what they think is happening.

Once you identify problem areas, ask yourself what you can do differently to make the process more convenient or understandable for medical travelers. Perhaps the data will lead you to create bundled packages or include or remove certain services or materials. More often than not, you will find that the most important thing you need to do is improve your communication skills.

Communication and education
To ensure the expectations of medical travelers are aligned with reality, it is important to communicate and educate patients about your financial policies, particularly through your emails, website, brochures and phone conversations. Never assume that the patient knows something unless you have sent the information in writing and confirmed that the patient has received it and understands it. For example:

• Cancellation and refund policies should be communicated across different channels such as your website, social media channels and email correspondence.

• Payment options should be clearly explained and patients should be made aware of instances where a transaction could generate charges apart from those billed by the provider (e.g. credit card transactions or traveler’s checks).

• Specify how long quoted pricing is valid.

• Communicate to medical travelers in advance what your policy is with regards to extra expenses from medical complications or longer hospital stays.

• Be clear about the different payment options available. Also be sure to provide an explanation or instructions for each payment method. For example: which credit cards are accepted, bank wiring instructions, and the fact that there may be restrictions on the amount of cash you can bring in or take out of the country.

• If patients are paying by credit card, encourage them to inform their bank before they travel. Also let your patients know that some banks charge fees for overseas credit card charges.

• Communicate your organization’s policy regarding nonpayment in advance (e.g., you enlist a collection agency’s help after three months of nonpayment).

Frequent communication with patients will help clear up any misconceptions about the payment process and will reduce the number of problems that turn into fires that need to be extinguished.

Remember, medical travel can be intimidating for patients. There are travel details to be arranged in the midst of managing an illness or medical condition. Patients are often not familiar with the new environment and may feel disoriented and confused. They are often confronted by language barriers and cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings. The last thing medical travelers want to endure is a complex payment process or unclear terms and conditions. By being transparent about your pricing, adjusting your financial policies to fit the needs of traveling patients and keeping patients updated and well-informed, you will be improving a very important part of the medical travel experience.

 

How Do You Define Quality in Medical Travel?

Imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning with a very sore throat. You decide to take some zinc lozenges and head to work. However, by early evening you are feeling worse so you go to your local clinic to see a physician.  An hour later you are being examined by a doctor as you describe your symptoms.  After giving you the once-over he opens a cabinet, takes out some slimy gray wiggly creatures and slaps them on your arm. He then matter-of-factly explains to you the benefits of bloodletting.  While this may sound like a nightmare or something you’d see in a low-budget horror movie, this was actually common medical practice as recently as a hundred and fifty years ago. In fact, George Washington, the first president of the United States, underwent a similar “treatment,” – right before he passed away.
Why don’t we usually recommend bloodletting as a treatment option for our patients?[1] Two words: Quality Improvement. Over the last centuries, our human yearning to “make things better,” coupled with a larger body of knowledge and improved technology, has resulted in better medical practices and outcomes.

What is quality in medical travel?

But how do we define “quality” and consequently “quality improvement” in medical travel where ‘care’ does not always equal healthcare?

According to The Institute of Medicine, quality in the healthcare space can be defined as “the degree to which health care services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes and are consistent with current professional knowledge.” This definition would probably bring no argument from most healthcare experts.

In medical travel, however, the patient experience extends beyond the care delivered in the actual healthcare facility – it starts from the point of inquiry through the ongoing communication after service has been provided. This means that any ancillary and hospitality services we have in-house or outsourced should also increase “the likelihood of desired healthcare outcomes” as well as a high-quality medical travel experience. However, to achieve this goal we must enlist, educate and empower other stakeholders (internal and external) who have contact with or who are responsible for the patient/guest during their medical trip. Remember, from the first interaction with your call center to pick-up at the airport to the hotel and hospital stay, medical travelers are forming a perception about the quality of care you provide – regardless of where it is delivered.

Yet, while defining ‘quality’ in medical travel is an important first step, it offers our patients little value as an inert concept. For real transformation to occur, we must take action and identify ways to improve quality in medical travel.

Quality Improvement

Quality Improvement can be defined as “a series of systematic and continuous actions that lead to measurable improvement in health care services and the health status of targeted patient groups.”[2]

Are international patients or medical travelers one of your targeted patient groups? If the answer is yes, then you should be measuring and benchmarking key performance indicators specific to the medical travel care continuum. Otherwise, how will you know if your actions are actually improving the quality of care provided to this patient segment?

What to measure?

When deciding whether or not to measure a certain metric, always ask yourself, “Will this data allow us to add value to our customers, employees and, ultimately, to our bottom line?” If the answer is no, then don’t waste your time. There are certain metrics that most hospitals are already measuring: e.g. readmission rate, occupancy rate, length of stay, infection rate, medication errors (though you may not be doing it specifically for medical travelers). But there are others you may have not considered: e.g. patient satisfaction at key touchpoints along the medical travel care continuum (such as hotel or transportation), average treatment charge, service delivery times, the average time it takes you to respond to a prospect, and return on investment from advertising campaigns, are some key indicators you should be tracking. Finally, measuring results is important for any organization to have long term sustainable success as it allows them to identify problems and opportunities, and to increase productivity.

Focusing on quality is good for your bottom line

Yes, focusing on quality is obviously beneficial for our patients. But did you know it is also good for your organization’s bottom line? New research has found that superior customer experience doesn’t just strengthen patient engagement — it also correlates to 50 percent higher hospital margins[3]. If this news doesn’t make your CFO dance a jig, then nothing will. However, to gain these rewards you and your team must constantly be on the lookout for ways to make your systems, processes, and services better. Whether it is something as simple as ensuring all email inquiries are responded to in under 24 hours to a more complicated initiative such as training hotel staff about medical travelers’ needs, we must change our mindset from “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” to understanding that we are ultimately responsible for facilitating quality services across the entire medical travel care continuum.

[1] Certain cultures still use leaches in medical treatments and it is currently used in some very specific cases during reconstructive plastic surgery. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26297126

[2] Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). https://www.hrsa.gov/quality/toolbox/methodology/qualityimprovement/ Accessed 5/8/17

[3] Accenture – Patient Engagement: Happy Patients, Healthy Margins. https://www.accenture.com/t20160923T044902__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Industries_17/Accenture-Happy-Patients-Healthy-Margins.pdf#zoom=50. Accessed 5/10/17

The Importance of Empathy in Medical Travel

Increasingly, healthcare providers are operating in a multicultural environment characterized by interactions with patients who hold different values, world-views and perhaps even differing perspectives and practices regarding their health and wellness. This reality across providers can lead to challenges in providing culturally competent and respectful care.

Take the case of Latin American, Asian or Middle Eastern patients traveling to the U.S. for care. These patients will have to interact with a culture that is often more direct, individualistic and independent than their own. These opportunities for interactions can set the stage for misunderstandings, anxiety and a poor medical travel experience. For example:

• Many Hispanic patients are strong advocates of folk and herbal treatments, which may frustrate American doctors who have been educated to primarily rely on orthodox medicine. 1
• Certain patients from Asia may find it disrespectful to make eye contact with doctors or other authority figures. Western doctors may mistakenly think that the patient is not interested in what he/she has to say or is simply not paying attention.2
• It is common for women in Arab cultures to defer to their husbands for important healthcare decisions. In some instances, they will only allow a woman doctor to treat them.3

Patients from various cultures may become upset or uncommunicative if healthcare professionals ignore or belittle their beliefs and social norms. Health care providers can avoid or minimize these types of situations when they have an awareness of the unique cultural beliefs and background of their patients.

How do you feel?

An often overlooked but critically important factor in the medical travel experience is empathy. Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” Studies have shown that empathy can be an important skill for healthcare providers and is often associated with improved clinical outcomes.

If you have ever stopped to help an older individual struggling to cross a busy intersection or simply sat down with a neighbor as they wept for the loss of a loved one, then you have probably felt empathy. Empathy in a clinical context is determined by a healthcare provider’s ability to understand patients’ emotions, which can facilitate a more accurate diagnosis and more caring treatment. In practical terms, if we try to understand the perspective of others, we are more able to display socially appropriate and compassionate behaviors. Empathy is important in any healthcare setting but is particularly essential in medical travel where patients face numerous challenges – real and perceived – related to having been dropped into an unfamiliar environment.

Unfamiliar environments can present challenges that may include:
• Concerns about being able to communicate effectively with medical staff due to potential language and culture barriers;
• Ability to observe cultural and religious practices during the hospital stay;
• Potential concerns about the treating physician’s qualifications;
• Lack of knowledge about their legal recourse in case something goes wrong;
• In certain instances, anxiety over what family, friends, or even their primary doctor may think about their decision to travel abroad for medical care;
• Concerns about finances and being charged more that quoted for the treatment;
• Lack of understanding about the medical travel process.

The first step to achieving empathy is to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. Ask yourself, what would you feel if you were traveling abroad for medical care? What fears and concerns would you have? Take time to listen to the medical travelers you are caring for to learn about their experiences and challenges.

Sorry, those are the Rules

Perhaps it is your hospital’s policy not to allow family members or companions in the recovery room immediately after surgery. While there are certainly valid reasons for this policy, did you ever stop to consider what a medical travel patient may feel when he/she wakes up in a daze, in a cold room, with people speaking a strange language? Or the anxiety of the family member or companion in a waiting room wondering about the wellbeing of their loved one? Understanding and being empathetic to traveling patients’ unique circumstances should motivate executives leading medical travel or international services lines to revisit policies and procedures to ensure they are promoting a positive and safe patient experience.

Common sense tells us that engaging in effective empathetic communication with international patients will lead to a better medical travel experience. How so?

• It builds trust between the patient and healthcare provider
• It may help the patient disclose information
• It enhances patient satisfaction
• It involves the patient more fully in health decision making
• Studies have shown that it leads to better outcomes 4

Understanding Empathy for Medical Travelers

A recent article published by the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine called “Seeking medical care abroad: A challenge to empathy” provides an interesting overview and broad perspective on empathy in the care setting for patients that travel for medical care. The author, Dr. Nizar N. Zein not only draws upon his research, personal experience as a physician and professional insight at Cleveland Clinic’s Chairman of Global Patient Services.

 

Best Practices for Managing Travel in Medical Travel

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.

 

The Quiet Leader in Medical Travel

Through the journey of a patient across the medical travel care continuum, one specific role is often a constant. Around the world, the profession of nursing has maintained a long and integral role in the delivery of care. The modern understanding of the profession encounters greater relevance now more than ever. To put it simply – without nursing, the realities of managing the medical travel care continuum would be nearly impossible.

Very few would debate the fact that nurses spend more time in direct contact with patients than physicians do and/or any other stakeholder while moving across the care continuum. In particular, nurses play a critical role in a medical traveler’s perception of quality of care and the overall experience at a destination.

For organizations considering the expansion of their brand globally or who are emphasizing a particular service line, nursing leadership must be prioritized as it has a significant impact on a healthcare organization’s culture and it is where the basic principles of caring and professionalism are consistently displayed.

Nurses also represent the most important professional in the medical travel care continuum who by nature and through training, often anticipate a patient’s need beyond the treatment being received. For the medical travel care continuum, nurses are the front-line as well as the backbone of patient care delivered.

Demands of Nursing in Medical Travel

Medical travelers will often encounter a different experience than the average patient-seeking healthcare services due to the increased demands from logistics, realities of travel before and after healthcare procedures, cultural differences and at times, the unfamiliarity of the destination. When you consider the challenges of managing medical travelers along with the high expectations of being a nurse, one truly has to acknowledge that nurses in medical travel programs experience one of the most demanding professions in the world and require a high level of commitment and dedication to their job and patients.

Nurses balance and fill a number of roles across the medical travel care continuum. They act as a companions, caregivers, and teachers and are the true navigators of the medical travel care continuum. For certain, the industry would collapse without nurses leading and supporting the delivery of care across the medical travel care continuum. Depending on where a patient may be traveling from or why he or she is traveling, a nurse can take on various roles based on the unique needs of medical travel patients. These roles include:

Communicator & Educator: Nurses often act as an educator or teacher in the interest of delivering effective communication. Many stakeholders globally acknowledge that effective communication across a care continuum can improve and promote positive outcomes for patients. Patients and their support system often have to retain a significant amount of new information to understand their recovery process as well as the preparation process prior to travel. This “information-overload” can overwhelm patients and companions and cause undue anxiety and stress. Nurses can function as a buffer to ensure patients and companions are not overwhelmed, while at the same time communicating important information in a timely and compassionate manner.

Patient Advocate: Advocating for a patient is widely recognized as one of the most important services a nurse can provide to a patient and a healthcare organization focused on medical travel. Topics such as patient rights are critical under this role, in particular because a medical travel patient may feel especially vulnerable and anxious due to the stress associated with travel and having to face a new environment – if not a strange culture and language. This role is a prioritized topic under the Patient Hospitality Experience competency within the standards recognized by the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA).

Culturally Competent Care Manager: The care provided to a medical travel patient should always focus on the unique needs and requirements of each patient and will require varying degrees of skills, attention and strategies to provide total care and, in particular, cultural competent care. Nurses are particularly inclined to care for their patients holistically. Holistic care can be defined as healing the whole person versus treating a specific disease pathology or completing an individual procedure. For medical travelers encountering a new destination or a new culture as part of their medical travel experience, culturally competent care across the entire medical travel care continuum is critical to delivering a positive medical travel experience. Additionally, the overall care management processes should be connected and seamless to ensure a successful medical travel outcome.

4 Ways to Measure Medical Travel Success

When asked, “How is your Global Patient Services Program”? – What do you say? Do you know what to say…confidently?

If you are like most, starting a program or navigating the waters of the current medical travel industry, one is inclined to follow the trends or target markets without firm data to justify your decisions. Often, as you can expect, these decisions can come back to bite you.

In the medical travel industry, it is very hard to compare one program to another or one market to another due to a lack of clear consensus on industry definitions along with a lack of transparency and hard data from stakeholders working in the industry. There are many terms which encompass the medical travel industry, including:

• Global Patient Services
• Global Healthcare Services
• International Patient Services
• Medical Tourism
• Medical Travel Services
• Medical Destination Services
• Centers of Excellence

There may be erroneous reporting on the number of medical travelers seeking care at a particular hospital or destination simply because as there is no consensus as to how to refer to this patient segment. Some healthcare providers may use the term international patient while others may call them foreign patients or healthcare travelers. A foreign resident may be counted as a medical traveler even though he or she “travelled” two blocks to the healthcare facility.

Additionally, few healthcare providers are actually tracking medical travelers as a separate entity in their systems or, much less, reporting these statistics. Sadly, no one can actually say, the average growth rate of medical travel programs is X% in a specific market or typically grows Y% over a 5 – 7 year period. How you can tell if your medical travel service line is really thriving? Benchmark.

Compare your program to others in the industry. In other industries companies can often assess the health of their company by comparing key metrics, gross revenue, volume growth and various other performance indicators, including patient satisfaction. As mentioned above, the dilemma in the medical travel industry is a lack of clear definitions along with a lack of transparency from global competitors.

In 2016, the Global Healthcare Accreditation ® (GHA) Program enters the medical travel industry – the first independent accrediting body to focus on the medical travel care continuum. The competencies that GHA promotes are focused in three core areas which have standards related to each. These three core areas include:

• Patient-Focused Clinical Processes
• The Patient Experience
• Sustainable Business Processes

Aside from meeting compliance with GHA standards, new as well as established programs can find several ways to benchmark or gauge their performance. Here are four ways you can find data for benchmarking your medical travel service line:

Ask other program leaders. Form alliances with similar programs to yours, but located in other markets, so that you don’t compete directly. Agree to share information – this creates an immediate opportunity to understand, explore and compare.

Attend industry events. Is there a better way to connect with other program leaders than to attend events where several of your industry peers may also be present? Medical travel events occur all over the globe and are increasingly encompassing a broad range of subject matter. For example, medical travel initiatives often cover everything from “use of technology in healthcare” to “economic initiatives for governments” to “creative ways to subsidize local care by attracting foreign patients to a particular destination.”

Ask an industry trade association. Industry trade associations often gather information from their membership, surveys and reports and/or offer access to individuals or resources with current information. Keep in mind that there are differing viewpoints as to how the medical travel industry is expected to perform over the next 5 to 10 years; so make sure to consult a trade association with a proven track record of working with a wide range of stakeholders. It is also important to find common denominators in these opinions and apply your understand to your individual business model.

Develop KPIs specific to Medical Travel. The GHA Program offers guidance within its standards and requires ongoing reporting of KPIs unique to an individual organization. Most healthcare organizations, because they are complex businesses irrespective of the services they provide, maintain robust financial performance indicators. It is important to apply the same interest and commitment to healthcare quality indicators to a medical travel service program as it is to understand the bottom line contribution of a medical travel service program.

Global Healthcare Accreditation Continues International Expansion with HCEG Partnership

 

Palm Beach Gardens, FL, April 13, 2017 –(PR.com)– The Global Health Accreditation® (GHA) Program, the first independent accrediting body focused on medical travel services and the medical travel patient experience, announced a partnership today with the Healthcare Expert Group of Thailand (HCEG).

“GHA is excited to be working with HCEG,” stated Karen Timmons, CEO of Global Healthcare Accreditation, “which has demonstrated its leadership in and commitment to Thailand becoming a leading international medical hub meeting international standards.”

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Mercy Hospital Springfield Achieves Accreditation

Mercy Hospital Springfield, part of the fifth largest Catholic health system in the nation, has been awarded a three-year term of accreditation from the Global Healthcare Accreditation Program for its Medical Destination Program. The Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program is a healthcare accreditation program designed for healthcare organizations seeking to elevate the quality, patient experience and excellence of care they provide to medical travel, medical tourism and/or international patients.

Over the past 4 years, Mercy Health System continued to expand its Medical Destination program that historically focused on large self-insured employers in the United States, including Walmart, Lowes, JetBlue and McKesson.

“This experience is invaluable to Mercy on our journey to expand our medical travel and medical tourism business. We are excited for the future and our continued relationship with the GHA Program,” stated Jen Albers, Director of Mercy Spine Center, Pain Management, Headache Management and Medical Destinations.

Established in 2009, the GHA program focuses on an organization’s core competencies and compliance levels to ensure it is fully committed to providing safe and efficient patient care throughout the entire medical travel cycle. The program offers four distinguished areas of accreditation: Hospital (24-hour setting), Ambulatory (non-24-hour setting), Diagnostic, and Laboratory. As part of the unique GHA program, healthcare organizations will be able to obtain not only knowledge on medical travel exemplar practices, but also unique business solutions that provide value for an organization in any stage of development. GHA aims to enable each accredited organization to achieve better process and better performance on a daily basis.

“Mercy is a leader in precision, high quality healthcare. The organization has a systemic passion to always service excellence and the dignity of each individual patient as its highest priority – this character trait of Mercy co-workers will allow the Medical Destination program to expand its global footprint. GHA Leadership looks forward to Mercy’s future in the international medical travel industry,” stated Karen Timmons, Chief Executive Officer, Global Healthcare Association.

About Mercy: Mercy Springfield Communities is comprised of Mercy Hospital Springfield, an 866-bed referral center; an orthopedic hospital; a rehab hospital; a children’s hospital; five regional hospitals in Lebanon, Aurora, Cassville, Mountain View, Missouri and Berryville, Arkansas; and Mercy Clinic, a physician clinic with nearly 700 doctors and locations throughout the region. It is part of Mercy, named one of the top five large health systems in 2016 by Truven, which serves millions annually. Mercy includes 45 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Mercy’s Medical Destination Program manages the traveling patient program for all of its facilities.

The Great Equalizer – Virtual Medicine

How can Virtual Medicine be an equalizer? Organizations around the world position their brand and services based upon the ability to see Doctor X or Doctor Y (when a need arises). Many healthcare organizations spent years recruiting, maintain and molding clinicians and staff to ensure the institution charters a course in medical innovation, research and high quality outcomes.

As the Medical Travel industry grows, healthcare organizations around the world are becoming competitive in ways they never would have been. Whether driven by cost, quality or access, healthcare consumers are considering broader healthcare choices, whether out of pocket or not.

Healthcare is still at a point where paper files and plastic films are part of the intake and ongoing service process, traditional physician face to face visits result in examinations, diagnosis and treatment.

Yet, do we know definitively whether patients think the idea of travel and/or a specific location of a clinician impacts the likelihood of a positive health and service outcome?

Virtual Medicine can also be recognized as Telehealth. As international patient programs evolve their business strategy, Telehealth often becomes a solution to offer based on the ease of expanding a global footprint without transporting actual staff to another location.

This service line represents an “equalizer” opportunity for international patient program to compete against organizations that may have larger brands, expanded footprints, or more mature services lines. Assuming language and technology infrastructure is adequate for the receiving end of care, virtual medicine is an ideal strategy for international patient programs to explore new markets in a manner that minimizes business development investment.

Did You Hear the Clarion Call for Medical Travel Accreditation?

Healthcare organizations face unique and dynamic challenges on a daily basis. Organizations attracting traveling patients generally understand the importance of mapping out the path for medical travel patients, yet may miss the mark in including and executing all of the necessary moving components. Organizations just starting to formalize a business plan for this process may find themselves, at best, in a vulnerable position due to not having access to resources respecting best practices for medical travel.

The Global Healthcare Accreditation Program was established in 2016 to bridge these gaps and assist organizations to improve the patient experience and excellence of care received by patients who travel for their medical care and treatment, whether within a country or region or internationally.

The Medical Travel industry, which encompasses Medical Tourism, evolved without a general framework to reference. Due to a number of factors – the presence or non-presence of services, the ability of individuals to travel, the type of travel available and word-of-mouth referrals – the Medical Travel industry is emerging as one of the faster growing consumer verticals in the global healthcare industry.

Global Healthcare Accreditation® (GHA) Program provides the framework needed by this health sector to accomplish the following:

• Validate existing practices through international best practices and standards;
• Achieve industry consensus in definition, measurement and benchmarking the industry; and
• Support the development of a strong business performance as well as positive patient outcomes and patient satisfaction for the traveling patient services in benchmarking the patient care continuum.

For those in The Medical Travel industry, there are a number of challenges, including the following key points:

Reaching for Validation

Organizations around the world have been using various frameworks to indicate their commitment to quality and safety. While these frameworks present positive patient safety and quality commitments, these frameworks do not provide a specific focus on medical travel. The Global Healthcare Accreditation Program is a laser focused dedication to the Medical Travel Care Continuum.

Clear Definitions and Consensus Do Not Exist

Healthcare executives cannot make intelligent decisions for their organizations unless they truly understand the context in which they do business. The Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program aims to promote consensus and clear definitions for the Medical Travel industry – in particular, “What is Medical Travel?”, “How is Length of Stay defined for a Medical Travel patient?”, “What is Quality in Medical Travel?”, and “What are meaningful Key Performance Indicators in Medical Travel?”.

Little to No Regulation Exists

Those that serve patients and those that manage the healthcare organizations on a daily basis understand the need for regulation, specifically for basic items such as workplace safety and infrastructure safety. When comparing different markets around the world, the prioritization of regulations as they pertain to the realities of medical travel patients is just too broad.

Accreditation is a first step in not only providing the individual healthcare organization a framework, but also a framework for governments to reference when considering the priorities for medical travel. In turn, the local population will benefit from a patient experience program that is measureable through KPI’s and therefore continuously improved. Ideally, the overall perception of a destination dedicated to medical travel could improve. Tools such as the Medical Tourism Index include the perception of a destination’s healthcare as one of the key components of the ranking survey.

Change is Inevitable

As globally recognized healthcare brands expand their global footprint, the global healthcare industry will become increasingly more competitive and defined as to consumer choice and preferences. As both ends of the service spectrum provide advantages as the medical travel industry continues to evolve – the question that remains is “Will organizations be referencing the correct framework for Medical Travel?” The Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program provides the ideal starting point to understand operational needs or validate current operations.

All healthcare organizations have an opportunity to engage the medical travel industry – if for no other reason, due to the fact of how individuals move around the globe. Healthcare needs can happen in a split second, all healthcare organizations need to have knowledge as to how best serve the traveling or non-local patient.