As medical tourism gains traction as a viable option for affordable healthcare, there has been a proliferation of medical travel companies that have emerged to help clients navigate the often confusing world of global medicine. So what does a medical travel company, often called a medical tourism facilitator, do?
One could envision these companies as a cog in a wheel, the central mechanism that helps the machine run smoothly with all of its moving parts: the patient, healthcare providers, transportation companies, hotels, recovery centers and even insurance companies.
Potential patients may balk at the idea of a ‘middle man,’ often seeing it as somehow adding cost to the procedure. But this would be akin to saying hotel and flight costs are more expensive using a regular travel agent than going directly to a hotel’s or airline’s website.
Medical tourism facilitators, if they are modeled appropriately, should not add any additional cost to the process and actually create additional significant value for the patient. Just like hotels and airlines, healthcare facilities are businesses that want to attract clients. In fact, some hospitals aggressively court international patients to fill empty beds. They spend money on marketing and are willing to share part of their normal fees with a medical travel agent who brings in and helps manage a patient.
Medical tourism facilitators can play a very important role in the safe delivery of overseas healthcare as educators, organizers, bridges and advocates. Their role as educators is perhaps one of the most important. Many people seeking overseas healthcare options have no idea where to start. How will they know which destinations are available and appropriate for their particular needs? Are there centers of excellence? What do the various accreditations and certifications mean? What travel considerations do they have to make for various destinations? The questions are endless, and ultimately, a medical travel company can function to educate potential patients on all of these things and more. However, medical travel companies should never be sales people; they should provide enough information so customers can do their own due diligence and come to informed consent.
Planning any overseas journey can have a variety of logistical challenges, but when healthcare is involved, the challenges can increased exponentially. Medical travel companies fill this role through their relationships with a variety of entities to deliver a seamless experience. From contracting for flight and hotels to organizing transportation, medical appointments and aftercare, they fill a much-needed role that can diminish stress through the process. They also should have access to specialty products like medical complication insurance for patients’ peace of mind.
Facilitators also function as a bridge between the patient and healthcare provider. This is especially important when patients are looking at healthcare options in a foreign country where they do not speak the native language. According to Mark Semple, president of Passport Medical, “Before I ever became involved in this business, I tried repeatedly in vain to contact several overseas clinics for a specialty eye procedure. Unfortunately, all of this was in vain, as I never got any responses to my emails.” This is a common story.
Many foreign doctors speak English, as it is the language of most medical textbooks. But often times their receptionists cannot. Time zones can also present a major challenge in contacting a facility directly. Through their relationships, facilitators know who to contact to get timely answers and move the process along efficiently. They also often have their own employees in destination countries who can liaise with medical providers, create an efficient system and insulate a patient from any of the language barriers that might arise.
For medical tourists in unfamiliar environments, it is always beneficial to have advocates who can be their voice. Even with the best laid plans, when there are many moving parts in the process, there is always a chance that an issue arises – the patient should not have to find a solution. If a flight has been delayed, for example, there are a number of consequences set in motion which may include missed transfers and appointment times. With a facilitator, a patient has to make only one call, and the facilitator can take care of the necessary scheduling changes. A good medical travel company will be able to respond quickly and efficiently to any issues that occur and ultimately shield the patient from the unnecessary concerns.
Medical tourism companies can play a valuable role in the overseas healthcare process. Just like choosing a doctor though, one should always be sure to learn about the facilitator before engaging in its services. Ask the following questions: How long has the facilitator been in business? How many patients has it managed? Does it have testimonials and references? Can it fulfill the outlined roles and create a valuable experience for the patient?
If you are satisfied with all of the answers, that facilitator just might be the difference in organizing your successful overseas medical experience.
Mark Semple is the President of Passport Medical, one of North America’s most successful medical travel companies. Semple received the 2011 Leadership Excellence in Medical Facilitation award at the 4th annual World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress, and he has been a speaker at a number of recent medical tourism conferences.