Author: By Karen Timmons and Bill Cook
What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for healthcare providers and other stakeholders as the medical travel industry heads into 2018? We would like to frame these challenges to the industry from the perspective of the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program as well as offer some insight into how we strive to help healthcare organizations turn these obstacles into opportunities for business growth in 2018. But to do so, it is first helpful to provide an overview of the GHA Program and the unique value it delivers.
GHA had a busy and productive 2017. Last year our leadership team, surveyors, and consultants traveled to many corners of the globe to engage with industry stakeholders including governments, healthcare providers, employers, insurance companies, and facilitators, with the goal of improving the quality of care and patient experience for those traveling for medical care. We held our first advisory board meeting last October, accredited several world-class healthcare providers and GHA leadership had the opportunity to speak at many events including the recent World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in Los Angeles, California.
What is GHA?
GHA is an independent accrediting body seeking to improve the experience and care received by patients traveling for their medical care and treatment, whether within their own country or internationally. The GHA program complements existing national and international clinical accreditation programs. While these programs traditionally focus on the clinical aspects of care for the entire organization, GHA conducts a deep review of the International or Global Patient Services program, or the entity within an organization serving the medical travel patient. GHA also provides advisory and custom education services for organizations interested in improving their medical travel program and/or business performance.
Enhancing the Patient Experience
The GHA accreditation process helps healthcare providers optimize and enhance all touchpoints along the Medical Travel Care Continuum by:
- Identifying Gaps
- Improving Efficiencies
- Fine-Tuning Performance
- Sharing Best Practices
Most importantly, GHA provides concrete and measurable value to patients by ensuring that the hospital or clinic has instituted processes customized to the medical travelers’ unique needs and expectations – and are constantly monitoring them for improvement. Ultimately, GHA facilitates a high-quality patient experience by helping medical staff put themselves in the “shoes of the patient” and empathize with the traveling patient’s concerns and anxieties that are often unique to medical travel.
Impacting Business Performance
The GHA Program offers guidance within its standards and requires ongoing reporting of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) unique to medical travel, ensuring that healthcare providers can accurately measure and benchmark their performance against other healthcare providers accredited by GHA. Additionally, because GHA focuses on the entire continuum, those business functions within an organization that impact the medical travel program, such as Marketing, Finance, and IT are included. This ensures that organizations receive solutions that impact not just patient outcomes, but business performance and the organization’s financial bottom line.
Agents of Change
The GHA Program, with its independent board comprised of industry experts and stakeholders, disrupts the status quo and brings clarity and consensus to the important issues facing medical travel in 2018, some of which are highlighted below:
Validating the Quality of Medical Travel Services
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, they do not provide a specific focus on medical travel. The Global Healthcare Accreditation Program, on the other hand, is laser-focused on enhancing the patient’s journey along the Medical Travel Care Continuum. Our standards focus on three core competencies:
- The Patient Experience
- Sustainable Business Processes
- Patient-Focused Clinical Processes
To achieve Global Healthcare Accreditation, organizations must pass an onsite survey evaluation and complete a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, and services against the GHA standards.
Additionally, there are a growing number of payers, such as insurers, employers, and governments using criteria affecting medical travelers in order to determine which hospitals will be included in their global medical networks. Factors such as quick access to treatments, international office efficiency, medical center dedication to international patients and servicing their medical needs, cultural competency, and ability to coordinate logistical support are becoming nearly as important as the quality of medical outcomes when choosing where to send patients.
The reality is that few healthcare providers are actually tracking medical travelers as a separate entity in their systems, much less reporting these statistics. Sadly, few organizations can actually say, “The average length of stay for joint replacement patients from Nigeria is X amount of days,” or “The revenue from medical travelers from the UK has increased Y percent over a 5 – 7 year period.” By requiring GHA accredited organizations to gather and monitor KPI’s related to medical travel, healthcare providers will be able to provide patients and other payers with hard data regarding the performance specific to medical travel, as well as internally monitor the health of their medical travel program.
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 operate. The GHA Program aims to promote consensus and clear definitions for the medical travel industry. In particular, we seek to answer the questions:
- How do we define a medical travel patient?
- How is the length of stay defined for a medical travel patient?
- What is quality in medical travel?
- What are meaningful KPI’s in medical travel?
For example, should the definition of a medical traveler consist of only a patient who travels outside their country for care? 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 count as a medical traveler even though they “traveled” two blocks to the healthcare facility. We cannot even begin to answer the questions above without agreement on this basic point.
Little or no Regulation Exists
Those who serve patients and those who manage healthcare organizations understand the need for regulation, specifically for basic items such as workplace 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 limited or non-existent.
Accreditation is a first step in not only providing individual healthcare organizations with 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 measurable through key performance indicators and therefore continuously improved. Ultimately, 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.
The Clarion Call for Accreditation
As globally recognized healthcare brands expand their global footprint, the industry will become more competitive and defined regarding consumer choice and preferences. There is little doubt that the medical travel industry will continue to evolve – the question that remains is will organizations be referencing an evidence-based framework for medical travel? The GHA Program provides the ideal starting point to validate current processes while focusing specifically on operational excellence and the patient experience, a business strategy that will impact organizations across all services provided.
The ultimate display of quality within the medical travel industry will come as organizations around the world collect (and report) outcome data, adhere to best practices, such as the GHA standards, and build the advocacy of medical travelers within their staff culture.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the GHA experience is through the words of our clients:
“The GHA process—what I believe should be called more accurately, The GHA Experience–was an exercise in practical, pragmatic, necessary quality improvement….GHA was particularly fitting for our institution as it is the only certification that helps assure quality care from the time a patient leaves their home to the time they return after medical care. We are a great hospital. We are even better after GHA.”
- Erik Fleischman, International Medical Director of Bumrungrad International Hospital (BIH), Thailand
“We chose Global Healthcare Accreditation as it conducts a deep review of the entire Medical Travel Care Continuum, beginning when the patient first inquires about our services all the way through their arrival back home, including the patient experience at all touch points. Additionally, GHA reviews those sustainable business processes and practices related to medical travel that have helped us identify areas of opportunity to enhance patient experience and improve operational performance.”
- Nizar Zein, Chairman Global Patient Services, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio
“GHA has helped prepare our clinic to anticipate our traveling patients’ needs and expectations, ensuring we provide an exceptional experience before, during and after their visit.”
- Rafael Carrillo, Managing Director of My Spine Center by Clínica Santa Clarita, Mexico
“The GHA process taught us new strategies to improve the patient experience for medical travelers and refine our operational procedures. We are extremely proud to have achieved Global Healthcare Accreditation as it validates our commitment to improving patient care and safety for traveling patients.”
- Jadranka Primorac, COO of Catherine Hospital, Croatia
 Z. Abdulhak. Strategies for Building a Quality Global Medical Network. Presentation at 6th Medical Director Summit, World Medical Tourism Congress. October 2nd, 2017.