An Intimate Interview with Medical Tourism Association CEO Jonathan Edelheit

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The Medical Tourism Association brings you an intimate interview with its CEO, Jonathan Edelheit. Edelheit not only founded the Medical Tourism Association, but has paved the way for the industry since 2004.

Please briefly describe your company and the purpose as well as your role there.

I am the Co-Founder and CEO of the Medical Tourism Association, as well as the Co-Founder and Principal of its managing body, Global Healthcare Resources.

The Medical Tourism Association is the global trade association for medical tourism and travel. The association works with governments, hospitals, insurers and medical tourism players in over 100 countries.  For over a decade, its focus has been in bringing transparency in quality, pricing and standards to this industry and bringing the stakeholders together to share best practices and case studies to grow this sector and shine a spotlight on the best of the best.

Global Healthcare Resources is the world’s preeminent authority in the fields of healthcare, medical travel, wellness, insurance, and benefits, with the influence to act as a global connector for Fortune 500 companies, a market penetrating facilitator for brand-new startups, an accrediting body for enterprise facilities, and a custom-tailored consulting firm with the ability to augment the growth of any business in the field.

My role at both organizations is focused on strategy – the projects that we as an organization we need to focus on. As the global leader in medical tourism we always have large opportunities and strategic partnerships coming to us and we have to really pick and choose which is best for our company and which is best for the long term growth of the industry.

Additionally, much of my time is spent working with the large buyers of medical tourism and the employers, insurance companies, and governments that are spending the most on medical tourism and helping them streamline their programs to increase efficiency and the bottom line.

How long have you been involved in the industry? How did your previous roles lead you to your current position and where do you see your next big move with your company to serve as an agent of change?

I have been involved in medical tourism since 2004 when I was running a national third-party administrator firm and was the first one in the US to implement and offer medical tourism into self-funded and fully insured health plans. We started offering medical tourism to our clients as an alternative and I will never forget within a week of offering it having one of our clients take us up on the offering and travel overseas for treatment. At first, I was skeptical of international healthcare when it was recommended to me over a decade ago. Upon learning more about medical tourism, I became extremely passionate about the industry.  It’s been rewarding helping to build this industry up and launching many of the successful destinations like South Korea and others as leaders in this space. To take governments and hospitals not even on the radar and to build a successful medical tourism program for them is something which I find to be highly rewarding.

Medical Tourism keeps growing but it has not scaled to hit its true potential and I believe it currently lacks the needed disruption. My goal over the next few years is to really disrupt medical tourism. We are working on several key initiatives that we think will disrupt the industry. For the rest of 2018 and 2019 I also plan on leveraging our relationships with all the big buyers we have built over the last 10 years to help implement and adopt medical tourism into their plans and programs. The biggest issue facing this industry is that the hospitals and other players are not bringing scalable and turnkey solutions to medical tourism buyers and this slows down the growth of the industry. So, we will start developing and taking solutions to the market that makes it easier for buyers to access the medical tourism marketplace.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do and why?

Meeting all the great individuals from all around the world and building new business partnerships, but more importantly making new lifelong friends from different cultures, backgrounds, and ways of life is truly rewarding. Also, traveling the world was a dream of mine as a child and I have now travelled all over the world. I have gone to a lot of my “bucket list” countries and only have a few left to check off. I think what is most rewarding is to watch the impact on a local economy or government and its people when we launch a medical tourism initiative and watch it grow over the years. The investment in healthcare infrastructure, technology, training for the doctors and nurses, and then watching the impact in the local economy and the advancement of healthcare for the local population as a result of medical tourism is the most amazing thing to see.

To look at countries like South Korea, one which we helped to launch a medical tourism initiative almost a decade ago and to see the impact of that has made the country a world leader makes it all worth it.

How do you envision the future of medical travel, medical tourism and international patients 5 years from now? 10 years from now?

If people don’t start adapting, evolving, and changing and keep trying to do it how they always have done it, they will be left in the past. I think five years from now there will be more technology and integration with all the players, making it easier for people to access data, information, and to travel for care. Additionally, in the coming years, a large portion of buyers around the world will have offered some form of medical tourism. I think ten years from now most insurance plans will offer medical tourism, and it may become so standard we won’t call it medical tourism anymore.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that you would pass along to others just entering the industry?

Medical Tourism and the people in it are great. But, this is not an easy industry. It is a long path to success and it takes time and money, and when one gets into it, you need to add in more time and money than you think you will need to achieve your goal. I would recommend talking to companies that have been in this space a long time to give you advice because some of the most important things you need to know are what not to do and what doesn’t work. A lot of people think that the medical tourism industry is quite easy and you can create a website and launch a business and the patients start coming, or you open your hospital doors and medical tourists start walking in. It’s a little more complex than that. This is a global industry and you need to develop a great business plan and strategy before diving in. You also need to do a lot of research and get the facts. There are so many inaccurate facts, advice, and research in medical tourism that often you can find information that is completely made up. I have seen a lot of pitch decks or research reports on medical tourism that have no basis in fact; and people actually rely on it. Also, one has to be careful of consultants, as there are some in this industry who actually give improper guidance and advice because they don’t have accurate information. Work with consultants who can really give you great references and check those references. There are some great experts in this space that have worked for some of the big brand hospitals. Also, people or companies who enter the market need to know that it’s fine to make mistakes, so long one learns from them. And for any new players to this space, I wish you the best of luck.

What would you tell a family member who was looking to travel for a medical procedure?

Focus on finding the best doctor as priority one. Use a trusted resource to coordinate the trip for you. Do a lot of research and make smart decisions. Compare the quality and outcomes of both the hospital and the doctor to your local hospital and doctor. Compare the economics as well, and make the decision that’s right for you.

To see Jonathan Edelheit speak in person and to learn more about what he is doing with medical tourism globally, click here.