Health care organizations are expected to deliver a high-level quality of care. This extends out to those who coordinate referrals and patient care to these healthcare organizations and providers.

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Society demands efficient usage of healthcare funding, transparency, integrity, competency and accountability.  Medical tourism facilitation business operation is subject to regulations like any other business (e.g., truth-in-advertising, tax and accounting, internet privacy and security compliance, disaster preparedness and recovery, prohibitions against bribery and anti-kickback regulations, and much more).

At present, no government I am aware of has established any regulatory framework for medical tourism business operations with regard to quality management systems, accreditation or certification.  All the certifications available are commercial and most are not established and therefore, have no real acceptance or recognition that is deemed special or exemplary other than to the company that sells certificates and wall plaques and fancy logos to place on one’s website.  Having any of these means little if anything to the market, except perhaps as a measure of how gullible one might be.

But what if a medical tourism facilitator company was to achieve International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, specifically, ISO 9001:2015?

Why this is important

In recent weeks, I’ve been engaged by 4 new clients for extensive new projects in healthcare. Each of their CEOs or Managing Directors have asked me to help them build their quality management system (QMS), workflows, quality, safety, vetting, and inspection criteria, and their forms, guidelines, and operating standards.

Only two of these businesses operate in the medical tourism space. A third needs this prepared for clinic mergers, acquisitions and managed services. The fourth needs it for franchise development to expand their brand nationally and eventually internationally and these standards and operational documents and policies and procedures I will create with my team of experts will become part of the knowledge pack that is sold with the franchise license so that franchisees perform and operate within the brand standard.  Each has a different “WHY” story that they can explain that centers on commitment to something different– a burning passion that differentiates them from other sellers of what they sell and an articulation of their cause or mission for the creation of their business. The HOW which includes these policies, procedures, standards, guidelines, checklists brings their cause to life. HOW they will do things manifests in the systems and processes within an organization and its culture. The HOW documentation frames the discipline to hold the business and its employees accountable to those guiding principles and enhances the business to work to its natural strengths.

Everything a medical tourism facilitator says and does has to prove what they believe. But a WHY is merely a belief. That’s all. HOWs are the actions taken to realize the belief.  The WHATs are the results of those actions: products, services, marketing, PR, culture, provider networks, suppliers and other stakeholders such as employees and contractors.

It boils down to this one critical issue and why this is important:

If you don’t know or can’t explain WHY you are in business, You can’t know HOW to build that business. Simply offering a high-quality product (especially one that belongs to another business) with more features, better services, or a better price does not create brand differentiation for a medical tourism facilitator or their business sustainability or success.

The Consistency of WHAT

The HOWs must be consistent to create a trustable brand that earns loyalty. With consistency people will see and hear, without any equivocation, what the Medical Tourism Facilitator believes about why they exist in business.  This WHAT level of consistency is where authenticity happens.

The authenticity begets the marketing strategy, defines the words and images of each campaign, which hospital and clinic partners are chosen, which practitioners, which hotels, airlines, and ground transportation providers are selected and contractually empanelled in the Medical Tourism Facilitators’ networks.  Simply representing a high quality healthcare provider as its referral agency and marketing them does not guarantee success as a medical tourism facilitator, as many have painfully become aware. Authenticity cannot be achieved without clarity about WHY they are in business. Absent authenticity, there can be no strong relationships with providers or customers, which means no trust, which translates to no brand differentiation. Without authenticity, the Medical Tourism Facilitator must result to selling on price, services, quality or features – just like every other medical tourism facilitator or agency. They must resort to manipulation: pricing, promotions, peer pressure, fear, all of which are short term strategies and unsustainable.

How to frame, document, and implement the WHAT and the HOW 

I began my work on each of these projects by assembling my tools and resources.  It goes back to my training as a surgical nurse. We would lay out all the implements on the Mayo stand, and the back table after we prepared the table and the stand to receive the implements and equipment. This is done in a prescribed manner, known as aseptic technique.   We did this before the patient ever was brought to the operating theater on the gurney.

What I love about being a consultant in healthcare and health tourism is that I come to work every day to do something that I love. I get to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.  The most fun is trying to figure out all the different ways we can do that. It is really amazing and rewarding. The best thing about it is it is good for their business — and mine – and for their patients and clients. Even better for me, I can turn away business from potential clients who don’t have a why and save my limited availability to take on new clients to only those with excellent potential centered on their WHY. As the CEO responsible for the leadership of my company, I am actually thrilled to leave the rest if the calls to other consultants that are interested in short-term gains and manipulations. The goal of Mercury Advisory Group and Mercury Healthcare International, its parent company is not to do business with anyone who simply wants my/our help. Instead it is to focus on inspiring and helping the clients who are committed to patient care, comfort, safety, access to good services, and share what I believe.

So, one way that a medical tourism facilitator could achieve this excellence is to pursue ISO 9001:2015 certification for their business.  Initially, ISO standards were focused on technical specifications geared for manufacturing and scientific industries but later, with the creation of the ISO 9001 QMS, their scope expanded and addressed a broad range of business processes, applicable to almost any kind of organization in any industry, including medical tourism facilitation business.  Some ISO standards align well with the operations of medical tourism facilitation businesses as they promote the use of practices that protect safety and privacy of patients and the continuous process of improvement, one of the fundamental principles of ISO 9001, which subsequently creates ways to improve the comfort of patients.

In this pursuit of ISO 9001:2015,  the business practices, policies, procedures, standards and operational workflows get certified instead of the individual. All of those medical tourism facilitator certifications that are commercially available from proprietary sources certify the person because that is so much easier. Certifying the business as ISO 9001:2015 gives the business operator a recognized and respected set of tactical, implementable “rails” to run the business that includes the best practices, failsafes, and other norms woven into the fabric that will make up their business “uniform”. That uniform is part of their brand – just like Superman. When they put on that uniform, it is transformative.  This is because ISO 9001 certification is utilized in a variety of ways as a vehicle for health care businesses to identify systemic breakdowns and close gaps, streamline workflow and maximize resource utilization. It enables the medical tourism facilitator to focus on client and provider needs and expectations, facilitate compliance to health care accreditation standards and regulatory requirements. Even if they don’t know them when they plan their business, they will know them by the time they get through all the QMS development to publish their policies, standards, and procedures. That’s the part that’s missing from these proprietary certification programs for the facilitator’s as individuals. Who could possibly assert they prepare their certified MTFs with all this in a 2-day course or even a week long course? This is why I don’t hold them in high regard. Just what exactly are they certifying?

Trustable brands don’t emerge simply because a seller of a service or product makes a rational case why the customer or patient should by a product or service. Trust is not a checklist. Fulfilling one’s responsibilities does not create trust in a brand. Trust begins to emerge when people have a sense that the person with whom they are doing business is driven by things other than their own self-gain. That may be a big contributing factor to why many people in medical tourism don’t trust certain trade associations – including a bunch that offer their proprietary certifications. Initially they gave the benefit of a doubt and then found that trust breached one too many times.

With trust in a brand comes value – real value, not just value equated with money. Value, but its very definition is the transference of trust. A business cannot convince someone that they have value, just as they cannot convince a client or a hospital or clinic partner or clinician to trust them. the medical tourism facilitator must convince and demonstrate to clients that they share common values and beliefs. The MTF must explain in their business plan and marketing communications their personal WHY and prove it with the WHAT. I can help them to pull together and document the HOW so that their actions are consistent to realize their beliefs, to create their product or service (their WHAT) so that there is balance in all three, trust is built in and value is perceived by their prospective clients and network channel partners and suppliers.

And that’s exactly what I was hired to do. I get to wake up each morning and enjoy my work as I help and inspire them to be the excellent medical tourism facilitators, investors, hospitals, clinics, or franchise owners they want to become. I may not charge as much as Deloitte or McKinsey, or BCG and others, but the clients I work with aren’t looking to buy branded logos on reports. They are looking for the HOW to be the best they can be in support of the WHY they decided to go into business in the first place. Rarely do those big firms drill down to the granularity of the WHAT because they don’t sell that. They just don’t know medical tourism at that level, nor do their consultants.

In all that you do, be excellent. Be exceptional. Be successful.

If you would like to discuss how my team of experts and I can help you achieve your goals in your healthcare or health tourism business, please call me at: +1.303.823.4662 or email me today.  Let’s have fun building it together.

Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO, Mercury Advisory Group
Author: The Medical Tourism Facilitator’s Handbook

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