Clues for Identifying Medical Travelers’ Unique Needs

Recognizing and responding to the needs of an individual is critical to the development of a responsive service that is truly patient-centered. Patients experience needs on several different levels: medical, psychological, related to attitudes and beliefs and even concerning information and communication preferences. [1] Individuals may also experience needs as a result of the unique circumstances or characteristics common to a specific patient population. This is true of medical travel patients.

While the circumstances and characteristics of medical travelers can vary based on factors such as geographic proximity to the medical travel destination, cultural and language affinity, economic circumstances of the individual, domestic healthcare policy, and insurance portability, among others, there are certain elements that are generally applicable to many if not most traveling patients.

Circumstances and characteristics shared by many medical travelers

  • They must travel to access medical services.
  • They will often look at and compare several different medical providers before making a final decision (unless the treatment is covered within a defined network).
  • 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 be traveling on a limited budget (particularly if the main motivator is lower cost)
  • They may not be familiar with the details of the medical travel process.
  • 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.

Use these clues to design an appropriate pathway for medical travelers

How can healthcare providers use this information for the benefit of the medical travel patients they serve? Taking these elements (or clues) as a starting point, hospitals and clinics can begin to design the appropriate services, policies and protocols to satisfy the particular needs of traveling patients.

For example, if “diagnosis or corroboration of the diagnosis must be performed remotely,” medical staff will need to gather critical information in advance of accepting the patient to ensure he or she is a candidate for a specific procedure and fit to travel. This may necessitate the implementation of new policies or the adaptation of existing policies to address this challenge.

The fact that medical travelers “may not be familiar with the medical travel destination, its laws, language(s), customs and culture,” may require healthcare providers to develop new educational content and begin staff training and orientation to ensure patients’ expectations are met and to reduce the risk of language and cultural barriers.

If medical travelers are prone to looking at multiple provider options for their healthcare needs, healthcare providers will likely be motivated to offer multiple contact options, provide quick and comprehensive responses and implement better customer service.

Drilling down even deeper, patients of certain religious or cultural backgrounds may have very specific dietary needs and customs that would necessitate adapting certain services or even treatment plans. For instance, some people of the Jewish faith may request kosher food (prepared according to the kosher dietary law), while some women of the Muslim faith may not want to be treated by a male physician.

It bears repeating that this is only a starting point. The list of elements highlighted above is generally applicable to traveling patients and, more importantly, does not take into account all individual patient needs or preferences. However, these elements do provide a framework to reference – and to fill in the blanks with more specific details – when healthcare providers are beginning to develop a medical travel program.

The bottom line is the more healthcare providers know about the unique circumstances and characteristics of medical travel patients, the better prepared they will be to identify relevant needs, customize protocols to address these needs, and ultimately provide a higher quality patient experience.

[1] K. Dudgeon. Understand the Whole Patient. A Model for Holistic Patient Care.‎