Selecting the Right Hotel for Your Medical Travelers’ Needs

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It is easy to think of hotels as relatively unimportant players in the context of a patient’s medical trip. Typically the patient (and often a companion) books a night or two in a hotel before treatment and then returns for several days of rest prior to his or her departure home. The “heavy lifting,” after all, is performed by healthcare providers who are responsible for a myriad of details including the treatment plan and the delivery of high-tech medical interventions.

While there is no denying that the stars of most medical trips are the doctors, hospitals and clinics, a poor patient experience and even a bad procedure outcome can occur if healthcare providers recommend hotels that are not appropriate to the patient’s needs. Depending on the type of procedure or treatment, some traveling patients may actually spend more time in the hotel than they will in a clinical setting. Being cognizant of this, healthcare providers should carefully evaluate all accommodation options that are recommended to medical travelers.

Consider the following factors when choosing appropriate hotels for medical travelers:

• Location and surroundings

• Budget

• Infrastructure, services and amenities

• Capability of hotel staff to cater to the needs of medical travelers

• Balancing patient needs verses preferences

Location and surroundings
In an ideal world, healthcare providers should strive to offer hotel options located relatively close to the healthcare facility. Apart from the convenience of quick transfers to and from the hospital, the proximity to the hospital can literally be life-saving if the patient suffers a medical emergency or treatment complication. Of course, real-world scenarios are not always ideal. There are many mitigating circumstances related to the hotel itself and its surroundings (which we will look at below) that may necessitate choosing accommodation options located farther away.

As far as surroundings go, healthcare providers should recommend accommodation options in areas that are safe, quiet and located close to restaurants and shopping venues. This is not always easy, but patients and their companions will be grateful for the peace and convenience this affords. Even a two-week stay at a nice hotel can feel like a prison sentence if there are no opportunities for entertainment.

Budget
Not everyone is looking for a luxurious 5-star resort; in fact, more often than not, patients will be seeking more affordable options. A good practice is to recommend accommodation options at different price points so that patients can choose hotels that fit their budget and preferences.

Infrastructure, services and amenities
As can be expected, some hotels will be better suited to the needs of medical travelers than others, while other hotels may be more appropriate for traveling patients undergoing certain treatments or procedures. Almost any hotel will do for patients undergoing dental or non-invasive treatments. However, not every hotel is suited for patients undergoing more invasive procedures such as joint replacements or weight loss surgeries. In the first example, patients will require little or no aftercare. In the second example, patients may require medical supervision, physical therapy, special diets and facilities that are adequate for guests with limited mobility. Therefore, it is important to evaluate each hotel’s infrastructure, services and amenities prior to recommending them to patients.

Infrastructure:

While most hotels were not built with the purpose of catering to medical travelers, many larger hotels have been designed to accommodate guests with disabilities. If a hotel is located in the U.S., then it must comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities ACT). ADA mandates strict guidelines [1]regarding accessibility to entryways, rooms, bathrooms, and public spaces such as pools and gyms. Hotels in other countries, however, may be subject to less stringent government regulation with regard to being accessible for guests with disabilities. Each hotel should be assessed by healthcare providers to ensure it offers the types of services required by patients depending on the medical procedure. If a hospital will be referring a large number of patients to a hotel, the hotel may be willing to meet the specifications of the hospital respecting food plans, special accommodations for safety such as rails, and bars. Wheelchair accessibility is a must for hotels catering to most medical travel guests. Reducing hindrances to getting around the property also needs to be a consideration for facilities not previously prepared to accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility assistance equipment. In the event that elevators are not present in the hotel, it may be necessary to use the first floor rooms for those with such needs. [2]

Room considerations: [3]

• A universal remote at bedside allows guests to open and close curtains, operate the television, adjust room lighting, and can provide an emergency button that calls for help if needed.

• The availability of wireless Internet makes use of the laptop from the bed possible, and nightstand-height electrical outlets allow for easy connection.

• If only one telephone is available in the room, it is recommended it be on the nightstand so it is accessible from the bed.

• Although unusual for hotels, a bed with a footboard allows a handle for stability as the guest walks around the room.

• A round table removes sharp corners to prevent bruising, but it needs to have a stable base that will support a person who leans on its edge.

• If a guest has limited mobility or requires the use of a wheelchair, the furnishings need to provide adequate maneuverable space.

Bathroom[4]

• Roll-in shower with grab bars.

• A handheld shower and a seat within the shower or tub area is a convenience if somebody has a specific body area that must remain dry.

• A full-length mirror on the bathroom door provides service to those in wheelchairs.

• Phone service in the bathroom gives the option of calling for assistance in the event of a fall.
• Toilet safety frames and rails can assist patients having difficulty standing up.

Services & amenities for medical travelers:

Medical travelers will often require one or more of the following services or amenities:

• Airport pick-up/drop-off.

• Expedited check-in service as might be provided to business executives. After surgery, the guest is likely to be in a physically weakened condition, so routine processes such as waiting in a short front-desk line can be tiring.

• Scheduled transportation service to nearby restaurants and shopping venues.

• Providing frequent linen and towel changes.

• Food service. Patients may require special dietary considerations, so room service may need to accommodate customized specifications. Additionally, hotels may wish to ensure that the offerings are aligned culturally with patients so that “comfort” food is available that is aligned to patient nationality or religious preference.

• Flexible transportation service to hospitals/clinics for doctor appointments and treatments.

• Transportation vans equipped with hydraulic lifts for wheelchairs.

In some cases, hotels that receive a high volume of medical travel guests may provide nursing support either directly or through contracted third party providers. Healthcare providers should verify the qualifications and experience of such personnel and ensure they follow the discharge instructions and care protocols prescribed by the treating physician. Additionally, hotels that wish to cater to medical travel guests should understand that their main mission is not to provide medical care, but instead, to create a healing environment for patients while monitoring their recovery.

Capability of hotel staff to cater to the needs of medical travelers
Hotel staff should be sensitized to the medical traveler’s unique needs and expectations. As we have seen, depending on the procedure or treatment, medical travel guests may require more hands-on care than regular guests. They may require frequent linen and towel changes due to their wounds; they may have special dietary requirements; they may require flexible transportation options or have special mobility requirements. Hotel managers, front desk supervisors and staff, housekeeping, room service, and food & beverage personnel should all be educated to anticipate these needs and any safety do’s and don’ts (such as what to do and who to call in an emergency) when serving or aiding medical travelers.

Balancing patient needs verses preferences
Oftentimes, patients will be tempted to choose one hotel over another based on budget or lifestyle preferences. This is not a problem for patients seeking dental treatments or minor cosmetic surgery. However, as indicated previously, patients traveling for more invasive procedures will need accommodation conditions that are suitable for the type of care or supervision they will require after their treatment. As medical experts, healthcare providers are in the best position to advise the patient as to the appropriate accommodation options. In instances when patients wish to choose a hotel or another accommodation option not appropriate to their needs as specified by the treating physician, healthcare providers must tactfully but firmly advise the patient to select a more appropriate option and explain why doing so will benefit their recovery.

The patient experience is not the sole domain of the healthcare provider
For healthcare providers treating traveling patients, accepting that the “patient experience” is not the sole domain of the healthcare provider is the first step in the quest to facilitate an optimal patient experience across the medical travel care continuum. The second step is to educate, empower and collaborate with other stakeholders – such as hotels – to ensure the traveling patient not only has a great experience, but also a successful recovery and treatment outcome.

[1] https://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm. Retrieved 11/16/17.

[2] The Physical Innovation of Hotels in Medical Tourism. Dan Cormany. Medical Tourism Magazine. April 1st, 2009. Retrieved at http://www.medicaltourismmag.com/the-physical-innovation-of-hotels-in-medical-tourism/.

[3]  Roberts GW. Nurse/patient communication within a bilingual health care setting. Br J Nurs. 1994;3(2):60–7.

[4] Ibid. 

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