My Surgery Went Well But…

…Clinical outcomes aren’t the only measure of a happy patient

A successful outcome or result does not always equal a happy customer.

Think of your last flight, you may have arrived at your destination on time but that does not necessarily mean the entire flight experience was pleasant. Perhaps the flight attendant spilled red wine on your new white blouse, your luggage was lost and the young passenger behind you decided to practice his kickboxing moves on your seat back. The desired outcome (you arrived at the right place on time) may have been achieved but your perception of the journey was undoubtedly poor.

In the same way, a positive clinical outcome does not necessarily translate into a great patient experience. Imagine a patient seeking a treatment abroad. The patient experience is shaped not only by a successful clinical outcome, but also by many other factors along the way that influence the patient’s perceptions of their medical travel experience.

For example, a nice website has to be created with relevant information in the patient’s language about the procedure and the surgeon. One or more qualified person(s) must review this information to ensure that it is accurate and periodically updated. Search engine optimization might be used to position the website so it can be easily found by patients. Trained staff with access to the appropriate technology must be available to quickly respond the patient’s inquiries. In order to respond quickly, a process had to be created so staff can quickly obtain the correct information from medical staff or the appropriate department. Certain information must be obtained from the patient and reviewed by the designated physician to determine the appropriate course of treatment. A secure system should be used to transfer and safeguard the patient’s private health information. Very precise information must be conveyed to the patient to ensure he or she is able to safely prepare for the procedure and that expectations are met. Hotel and ground transportation should be reserved or recommended. However, before this happens, the hotel needs to be checked to ensure it is appropriate for medical travel patients.

We could go on and on but the point should be clear; if any of these details had not been accounted for they would have negatively impacted the patient experience – and this is before the patient has even arrived in the destination country much less undergone any treatment. Then there is the critically important human touch. Are the physicians, nurses and staff warm and empathetic? Are they sensitive to the patient’s needs? Are they communicating effectively with the patient even in the midst of potential cultural and language barriers? The sum of all these interactions leads to the patient forming certain perceptions about the entire care experience, which in turn impact other outcome variables like willingness to return to the same hospital and reuse its services or recommend them to others.[1]

The medical travel care continuum includes many important touchpoints (clinical and non-clinical) that must be identified and then optimized in order to ensure a quality medical travel experience as well as a successful clinical outcome. Have you aligned your services and care processes with the expectations and needs of traveling patients?

In a future article we will look at how patient perceptions are affected by their expectations of the care experience and offer specific strategies healthcare providers can utilize to close the gap between expectations and reality.

[1] Arab M, Tabatabaei SG, Rashidian A, Forushani AR, Zarei E. The Effect of Service Quality on Patient loyalty: a Study of Private Hospitals in Tehran, Iran. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2012. Retrieved at on June 19, 2018.

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