By Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO & Founder
Mercury Healthcare International, Inc.
The term, Medical Tourism Facilitator has so many facets to it, that I suggest it is time to revisit the term and perhaps refine the role and qualifications a bit better.
A medical tourism facilitator can be many things to many people.
To a consumer searching for a medical tourism destination and provider, the role is:
- Specially-trained travel planner and logistics coordinator for travelers with very special needs
- Destination management organizer
- Evaluator of clinical quality and safety and hospitality provider appropriateness
- Medical records transfer agent
- Appointment scheduler/agenda manager
- Paid advocate and unbiased adviser of treatment provider solutions and destination options
To a medical provider, the role is
- Free labor to do what the doctor or the hospital doesn't know how to do or have time to do, and does not want to learn or staff and fund the role internally
- Marketing agent /sales agency who is paid only when they close sales for that provider
- Brand promoter /referral partner who is paid only when they close sales for that provider
- Administrative coordinator of appointments and payment transactions who is paid only when they close sales for that provider
- Owner of another website for a back-linking or click-through strategy who is paid only when they close sales for that provider
To the proprietary certification bodies currently selling certification for medical tourism facilitators, the role is:
- Gullible consumer with a checkbook
- Someone willing to pay them money for a quick badge of ersatz competency that can be earned in a day or two
How large is the addressable market?
That's been under debate since about 2007. At that time, professional publicity agents began working with hospitals in SE Asia that released figures so large that the media danced in circles believing that it had a new hot topic to write about. Deloitte published a report in 2008 authored by Dr Paul Keckley that estimated the market at one number with a bunch of zeros, and then redacted and restated those numbers a few times, but few read the revisions. McKinsey also published numbers around the same time that didn't align with the Deloitte numbers. In actuality, nobody really knows.
Why are credible medical tourism statistics so difficult to obtain?
The reason is actually quite simple. The industry is new from a commercial activity standpoint, and there are no standardized counting methods or definitions of what is or is not a medical tourism visitor. Until some official definitions and metrics are created and adopted by the industry as a whole, we will never have statistics that are standardized by definition or auditable.
Suffice it to say that any individual, business or trade association that publishes such an industry statistic that estimates health and wellness tourism market size should be carefully assessed to determine what they have to gain by telling you the number they quote. What are they selling? Conference stands, published reports, certifications, advertising services, or something else?
What kinds of individuals establish medical tourism facilitator businesses?
Medical tourism facilitators are an interesting group. Some are doctors and nurses that have no professional training in health travel planning, Some are travel planners without any medical industry experience other than that of having been a patient. Some are people that heard about this sector and found out you don't have to have any qualifications in health or travel as long as they have a website and a way to respond to inquiries and sell packages to consumers.
Think of a Medical Tourism Facilitator Job Similar to that of a New Car Franchise Dealer.
To the manufacturer, the new car dealer (compared to a used car lot salesman) specializes in selling one brand of automobile, although there may be many models from which to choose within a brand franchise. Many facilitators choose to represent many providers instead of specializing in one type of procedure, service, destination or brand of supplier.
Too often they bring no differentiation to their own business and attempt to sell cheaper priced services than competitors. This reduces them to the epitome of commodities. The world won't miss them if and when they fail. In fact, the world will likely never know that they existed in the first place. Their office will be just like the abandoned car lot of a new car franchise dealer.
- The brand has certain established standards that the dealership must meet to remain an authorized seller of their brand's products and accessories. Otherwise, they lose their credentials to sell that brand.
- The brand has certain established sales criteria. When the dealership exceeds these standards for sales revenue, units sold, and customer service feedback, they win awards and recognition for achieving sales and service goals.
- The key responsibilities of the sales person are to match customers to the vehicle they seek; communicate financial aspects of purchase; promote vehicles' features to prospective buyers
- The brand expects the sales person to be trained on what to say and how to explain the features and benefits of selecting the manufacturers' brands and set realistic expectations.
- The sales staff is not permitted to close the sale without supervisor oversight to check that all the regulatory paperwork, forms, payment and transactional details and explanation of safety features and other benefits have been thoroughly explained to the customer before leaving the showroom with the vehicle.
What Are the Degree and Training Options?
If you decide to pursue a degree, associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available in healthcare or hospitality or travel management that can teach Medical Tourism Facilitators about the three primary sectors that intersect to build professional competence as a medical tourism facilitator. Typical courses cover advertising, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, sales strategy and tactics, regulatory compliance, financial matters, service, safety, and quality warranties, budgeting and customer relations.
Additionally, certificate programs and individual courses in a number of skills that comprise the roles and responsibilities of a medical tourism facilitator that are available from some technical and community colleges that could help you prepare for a career as a medical tourism facilitator. Unfortunately, there are no college or university courses that combine the necessary intersecting skills from the three main sectors, and panel presentations and short 3-4 hour courses only touch on a single focused skill for the time available.
One would have to pay thousands of dollars to travel, book hotels and pay registrations to get enough learning opportunity at these medical tourism industry conferences because most are not focused on education or skills training, they are focused on networking, B2B meetings, and finding people to pay for add on courses and sponsorships to "get one's name" in front of other competitors with the same objectives - which translates to nothing in terms of revenue for the facilitators, and lots of money for the conference organizers. Many of these conference organizers also prey on unsuspecting new entrants to medical tourism facilitation with certification courses that run one or two days and offer ersatz competencies signified with a fee-based license to post the logo of the certifier on the facilitator's marketing materials - which only amplifies the brand of the certifier and its ersatz competency badge.
Eventually, there will be an Institute for training where one can enroll in a training program provided by working professionals in the three integrated sectors involved in medical tourism. When that happens, there will be several different programs for medical tourism facilitator operations, including programs for prospective facilitators, special needs coordinators (transplant, dialysis, minimally-invasive surgery, large case surgery, second opinion consultations, wellness, rehabilitation, and spa/water-based tourism. There will also be training to help a new medical tourism facilitator understand the risks involved and to help them build a set of quality management policies, practices and procedures required to be worthy of ISO 9001:2015 certification for those seeking global recognition for their commitment to quality and safety.
Where might a Medical Tourism Facilitator find employment?
As a medical tourism facilitator, one might work for a company or a corporation that employs many people to focus on specific parts of the role. One might also work as an employee of a hospital or clinic or at a call center that supports many hospitals and clinics within a network, health tourism cluster or a specific brand of clinic, hospital, spa, or a medical doctor's or dentist's private practice. One might also work as an independent medical tourism facilitator, case manager, destination coordinator, tour operator, or tour escort, or a specialized travel agent. Most facilitators are independent business owners that employ no other staff. In addition to competing with the providers themselves for market share, they will ultimately compete with larger corporate medical tourism businesses which are are increasing in number, brand recognition, and reputation worldwide.
What Might My Job Be Like?
Depending on what type of facilitation business one works for, one might spend days indoors in a comfortable home office or in a professional office or hospital or call center. The medical tourism facilitator is likely to spend some of the time traveling to inspect providers that they represent. Day-to-day, much of the workday is spent seated in an office area. Medical tourism facilitators are typically paid referral fees tied to the packages of medical services and hospitality arrangements that they sell. in some countries, payment for referrals to medical providers is against the law, but many are ignorant of the law and others choose to ignore it assuming they will never get caught.
While many may not have earnings goals or sales quotas to fulfill, they don't make any money if they don't sell packages which can make the job competitive, financially risky, and potentially stressful. Some make no profit whatsoever even though they make a little revenue because they are unaware of their fully-loaded costs to operate their business. Medical tourism facilitators typically work less than 40 hours per week, and they may need to work weekends or evenings in order to meet consumer needs and sales goals.
Some medical tourism facilitators enter the business because they've heard that they will be invited to take hosted trips to exotic places to familiarize themselves (fam tours) with potential destinations and medical tourism service suppliers. Frequently these fam tours are so poorly organized that in order to perform a thorough inspection beyond the fam tour meet and greet and cursory walk through, the medical tourism facilitator must return to the provider's location at their own expense at a later date to finish the quality and safety inspection at the level of depth and granularity required to be able to explain what's available to consumer prospects, leads and clients.
How much startup capital is needed?
This all depends on the amount of training and professional assistance anticipated. Costs for a medical tourism facilitator business can include those associated with:
Get personalized coaching and consultation starting from USD $88
- training and professional development
- website development, maintenance, software and hardware
- office space and operation
- subscriptions and registration fees
- forms creation, graphics creation, brand image materials
- policies and procedures creation, implementation, testing, and required changes
- professional liability insurance
- product development and package construction
- target market research into likely buyer personas and target source markets to promote the facilitator's business for each package sold
- periodic inspection trips for situation assessments and product knowledge and destination familiarity
- onboarding of selected network providers
- costs of contracting with service providers and legal review of contract terms and conditions
- attendance at industry events
Experience teaches us that to properly onboard each new supplier, inclusive of self-paid site inspections, credentials and license verification, contract negotiation activities, legal review, policies and procedures orientation, quality management and monitoring, and adding the provider to an established website can cost as much as USD 14,000. Most of the costs are recurring every two to three years. Therefore, to consider adding a new supplier to a medical tourism provider network operated by the medical tourism facilitator, one must reasonably expect to recover at least USD $20,000 per year, per provider just to break even without covering the salary and benefits of the medical tourism facilitator. Otherwise adding that provider is simply a waste of time and money.
Are you thinking about starting a medical tourism facilitator business? Are you a medical doctor or dentist seeking to appoint a facilitator as your marketing agent?
Mercury Advisory Group is the largest and longest established medical tourism business and marketing consultancy in the world. With more than 30 years of practical experience as facilitators and business coaches to healthcare providers, investors, government authorities and facilitators, we take pride in the results delivered by our integrated team of experts in medical tourism. If we don't believe we can help you, we will explain why and decline rather than take your money and
For Aspiring Facilitators and Travel Agents: At Mercury Advisory Group, our experts help new and established medical tourism facilitators to plan, launch and develop their businesses. We offer one-on-one training, business coaching and skills training, quality management certification preparation (ISO 9001:2015), marketing and social media skills training, branding, and provide connections to our medical tourism medical and dental clients.
For Medical and Dental Providers, and Health Facilities: Mercury Advisory Group brings more than 30 years of practical experience working in medical tourism marketing and business development as a consulting firm. Your business will benefit from the convenience and the practical and specific guidance from our experts who bring you more than 1200 years of combined professional work experience in medical tourism business development from one single contact point. Before you can work effectively with a facilitator, trust us to help you develop your product, marketing strategy, brand characteristics, and target source markets and personas. Only then can you begin to discuss with facilitators about a collaborative agency relationship. When you are ready, we can connect you to a short list of qualified and competent professional medical tourism facilitators we've cultivated over the years.
Contact us to learn more!