Medical Tourism: Changing with Shifting Sands of Time

By
Renée-Marie Stephano
,
Co Founder & CEO
of
Global Healthcare Resources & Medical Tourism Association
By
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Every industry changes and adapts. Some governments and providers have evolved along with the healthcare industry to either maintain or increase their market positions. Other governments and hospitals have fallen, faltered or failed.

Major players have entered the industry in both the public and private sectors. Planning strategy and execution are factors that create the most successful medical travel players today.

Gone are the days when doors are opened and patients are expected to walk in. Programs cannot succeed today without a proper plan, roadmap, long-term strategy and, more importantly, execution through business development.

Years ago when I helped to launch South Korea’s medical tourism initiative and guided the nation’s investments in healthcare infrastructure, physician and nursing education, language training, long-term plans for implementing international accreditation for its hospitals, the vision was clear, the strategy well-planned and even more well-executed.

Has South Korea stopped long-term planning? No. More than a year ago, South Korea conducted another study on exporting healthcare and supporting the nation’s hospitals opening overseas. Did they stop there? No. When I finished South Korea’s strategy and feasibility study for entering MENA markets just a few months ago, the approach represented another step in a long-term process.

Continuous investment and growth: a medical tourism program in either the private or public sectors cannot flourish without this ongoing investment and long-term strategy.

During my work this year with Washington, D.C., the State of Florida, Puerto Rico and several international governments to develop inbound medical travel and wellness strategies, cookie-cutter approaches were not feasible. Each destination is unique in the services and price points offered to targeted markets. Understanding how to penetrate those targeted markets with the proper service lines and at the appropriate time is the defining rule of success.

One of the most important outcomes from those destinations I have touched can be found in the private sector, where investments of millions of dollars have raised the level of healthcare for local populations. To witness where Korea has evolved from where we first began our work together in 2008 is amazing.

The MTA has adapted along with industry. Our results are reflected in significant growth. We have had amazing success with our certification programs, with expanding our footprint around the world, and with insurance companies and large global buyers of which we have connected with top hospitals and continue to consult on establishing medical travel programs.


We have adapted by helping connect hospitals for affiliations, partnerships, capacity building, hospital management and other services. By creating partnerships that bridge gaps between hospitals and international buyers, we can influence global healthcare.

We have adapted and are working with governments and healthcare players throughout the world to fulfill long-term strategic initiatives. It’s actually a great position to be in. We now pick and choose our clients and partners: which clients we want to work with, which clients share our vision and passion to build sustainable medical travel initiatives, and which will not only set realistic expectations, goals and targets, but follow our recommendations as well.


The planning and correct strategy is what makes the difference. Look at the organizations that fail to plan properly to strategize. Are they not always running in place, never really progressing, failing – most likely — to increase business?

Puerto Rico is an amazing example of a destination choosing not to rest on short-term rewards. Under a government initiative, 40 healthcare centers committed to International Patient Specialist Certification®; 24 hotels to WellHotel® certification; and a number of supporting entities including travel agencies, transportation providers, destination management companies, facilitators and tour operators to Certified Medical Tourism Professional Certification®.

More than 1.5 million potential contacts in healthcare, insurance and human resources read our magazine, engage in our large LinkedIn presence and receive our emails. We are connecting even more buyers with healthcare providers globally.


In turn, we are assisting those healthcare providers to invest in training and certification for their facilities and staff; thereby, building a solid foundation for which those systems can fulfill the expectations of the buyers of healthcare and their clients.

Our buyer markets keep expanding. We are conducting VIP trade missions at very high levels into key markets in the Middle East and Asia. We are launching a series of VIP Buyer events in the next five years at key markets beginning with China, Nov. 14-16, in Guilin 2015.

The industry is growing 35 percent annually. What percentage of that growth is your organization part of? Have you changed, adapted or stagnated in the past several years? Why have you yet to develop a long-term strategy? Is your business a sailboat without a sail, floating aimlessly in an open ocean? How can your organization improve, adapt, change and succeed? How can we better ourselves, and not just in business, but personally?