Author: Global Healthcare Accreditation for Medical Travel Services
Here we are just a few weeks into 2018, which means that many of us are attempting to hold firm to our New Year resolutions. Whether it be eating healthier, getting in shape or dropping an unhealthy habit, one thing is for sure: sticking to our resolutions is not an easy task!
Lack of a clear goal, failing to plan, and not tracking progress are some common reasons for failed resolutions. These problems affect individuals as well as organizations. If we don’t set goals, identify steps to reach those goals, and monitor performance, it is unlikely we will achieve our objectives. With this in mind, the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) program has put together a list of five New Year’s resolutions for healthcare providers caring for medical travel patients. These are specific issues or gaps that impact patient safety, the patient experience, and the health of an organization’s medical travel program, but which are sometimes forgotten or not prioritized to the extent that they should be. Are you ready to take your medical travel program to the next level?
1. Identify and prioritize the needs of traveling patients across the entire medical travel care continuum
Medical travelers have unique needs and expectations both inside and outside the clinical setting. For example:
- They may require specific information about the healthcare provider, care plan, and the destination before deciding to travel for medical care
- The provider must remotely assess whether or not the patient is a candidate for the requested treatment and is fit for travel
- They may have needs and expectations regarding financial transactions
- They may require special assistance and orientation at the destination
- They may have needs and expectations related to language and culture
- They may require assistance with travel, transportation, and lodging
Healthcare providers that are genuinely committed to ensuring a safe and positive patient experience must identify these needs and institute processes and services to address them adequately. These may include:
- Optimizing your website, so it is user-friendly for your target patient populations
- Putting protocols in place to pre-screen, diagnose, and educate the patient before he or she travels to your facility
- Adding hospitality-type services and amenities during the treatment/recovery process
- Partnering or working closely with third-party providers such as hotels and transportation providers to ensure oversight of the care continuum outside the clinical environment
- Putting processes in place to assist and engage the patient after they have left the destination
Achieving a responsive service that is truly patient-centered is only possible once we recognize and respond to the needs of various patient populations.
2. Institute staff training and orientation that impacts the patient experience
One of the most critical steps healthcare providers can take to improve the patient experience is to train and equip their staff with the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for traveling patients. Doctors study for years to diagnose and treat patients. Nurses undergo intensive training and certification. Even a hospital’s cleaning staff follows specific protocols to perform their jobs well. The same principle should apply to every staff member responsible for caring for medical travelers. Physicians and frontline staff serving medical travelers may need periodic cultural and language orientation as well as knowledge about the needs and expectations of medical travelers. Remember, every interaction, whether it be a patient on the phone with your call center, in the transportation van, or with your nurses causes a reaction – even if it is an unconscious one. As we begin the New Year, make sure your staff is always ready to generate positive reactions.
3. Ensure your physical environment is contributing to a safe and positive experience for all patients
There is a growing body of evidence showing that a hospital’s physical environment can impact patient experience and even healthcare outcomes. While this relates to all patients, medical travelers are especially vulnerable due to their unique circumstances and the stress and anxiety these may cause. These include:
- Stress and fatigue from combining travel and treatment
- Potential language and cultural barriers
- Disorientation stemming from being placed in an unfamiliar environment (concerning the hospital and country or region)
Potential challenges in the physical environment for medical travelers can be mitigated by:
Enhancing wayfinding and signage to make navigation easy:
- Adapting wayfinding and signage so that it is in the languages of your traveling patient populations
- Providing brochures with maps of the facility in multiple languages
- Healthcare providers who are more tech-savvy may want to look into implementing a mobile wayfinding app for patients. Not only is it a convenient way for patients and family members to orient themselves inside a hospital, but it can also provide additional patient engagement opportunities and analytics
- Assigning a patient advocate or a person to orient medical travelers when they arrive at your facility
Creating a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing environment. The Center for Health Design recommends:
- Consider acoustic properties of materials selected for waiting, check-in, and communal spaces to aid in minimizing noise
- Reinforce cultural sensibility through the selection of interior aesthetics, such as artwork and color preferences relevant to multiple patient populations represented in the clinic
- Provide a variety of lighting options—controlled, natural, skylights
- Create patient spaces that also accommodate accompanying family members
- Provide positive distractions for patients and families in waiting areas including culturally relevant artwork, reading materials in different languages, television, and information kiosks (The Center for Health Design, 2011)
Whether you boast a spanking new ultra-modern medical facility or one that is showing its age, these strategies will ensure that your physical environment is contributing to a safe and positive experience for all patient populations.
4. Gain insight from customer feedback to better understand and advocate for traveling patients
Gaining insights is the first step toward improving the patient experience. To gather actionable insight you first need to capture patient feedback using tools such as electronic surveys, social media, phone, written surveys and even conversations. You may find, for example, that a significant percentage of traveling patients are having difficulty communicating with nurses, which is causing patients anxiety and reduced compliance with post-discharge recovery protocols. Once you are aware of this problem, you can dig deeper to understand the underlying causes of this issue. Perhaps there are language or cultural barriers to address through additional training, orientation or even new hiring practices. Which survey tools work best? The best tools are the ones that are most relevant and convenient for your traveling patient populations (and they may differ between different demographic groups). You might find, for instance, that patients from a particular country prefer to use mobile apps to complete a survey while patients from another nation or age group prefer a written questionnaire or post-trip phone call. The critical point is to regularly gather feedback from all your patient populations, identify actionable insight and act on it.
5. Manage what you measure and measure what you need to manage
In other words: only measure those activities or results that are important to successfully achieving your organization’s goals. When deciding whether or not to measure a specific metric, always ask yourself, “Will this data allow us to add value to our customers, employees and, ultimately, to our bottom line?” For example, what is the average length of stay for joint replacement patients from X country compared to your local patients? Is it less or more? Why? Metrics such as these become key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to change processes or behaviors in ways that improve outcomes and the patient experience. Other activities or results you may want to measure includes:
- Patient satisfaction at crucial touchpoints outside the clinical setting such as the hotel or transportation
- Average treatment charge
- Service delivery times
- The average time it takes you to respond to a prospect
- Return on investment from advertising campaigns
Finally, measuring results is important for any organization to have long-term success as it allows them to identify problems and opportunities and to increase productivity.
We hope one or more of GHA’s suggested New Year resolutions resonate with you and spur you on to take meaningful action that benefits the health and wellbeing of traveling patients. Remember, small constant improvements add up to significant changes that make a real impact. Regardless of the goals you choose, make sure they are clear, manageable and align with your organization’s strategic objectives. Here’s to a healthy and successful 2018!
For more information on medical travel best practices and the GHA program, please click here.
 Gotlieb JB. Understanding the effects of nurses, patients’ hospital rooms, and patients’ perception of control on the perceived quality of a hospital. Health Mark Q. 2000;18:1–14
 The Center for Health Design. Retrieved from https://www.healthdesign.org/sites/default/files/files/news/Clinic%20Design%20Recommendations_FINAL%202011.pdf on January 15, 2018.