Finding a differentiator for your medical tourism hospital, clinic or medical practice is not an easy task.

Many medical tourism suppliers struggle mightily only to come up with a differentiator that doesn’t really differentiate them at all.

To be successful, a medical tourism supplier seeking to differentiate themselves must meet three important criteria:

  • Your differentiation must be true. You can’t simply make it up.
  • It must be important to prospects, clients, and employee/stakeholders.Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Your claim must be supported by proof. If you can’t demonstrate that it is true, no one will believe you.

The sad reality is that most medical tourism suppliers fail on at least two of these criteria. In fact, one Greek medical tourism facilitator in a LinkedIn Group said it:

But don’t despair; there are many successful differentiators. Here are 21 that work for many medical tourism suppliers. Also, you can have multiple differentiators that can be combined to create a distinctive and effective competitive advantage.

1. Specialize in a specific service line or specific surgical procedure.

This is perhaps the easiest and most successful differentiator for most doctors, hospitals and clinics. Patients value the specialist in their who can help them solve their problem. But be careful. If you claim specialization in too many procedures, you will lose credibility.

2. Specialize in serving a specific category within your specialty – such as heart valves or knees, instead of all orthopedics or cardiovascular surgery.

This categorical specialization is also quite successful, especially if combined with geographic or destination focus. You each complement the differentiation of one another to produce a compound effect.

3. Specialize in offering a particular service.

This is also quite successful, especially if the service you specialize in is rare and hard to find. But beware, unique service offerings can quickly become mainstream, especially in medical tourism. Take for example stem cell treatments and assisted reproduction / infertility services.

4. Offer a truly unique technology or process.

By truly unique, we do not mean your process that starts with assessment and ends with monitoring results and making adjustments. We mean an approach that is a whole different way of approaching the problem that offers a unique benefit to the client. This is slowed down a bit by clinical trials that prove efficacy and beneficence, but once proven, your method, technology or process is a true differentiator as long as you become peer recognized for that unique differentiation.

5. Focus on understanding a particular target market segment.

A key differentiator for some medical tourism providers is their in-depth understanding of a particular audience, such as the Russian market, the Chinese market, or the Muslim/Arab market and cultures. Your hospital or clinic might specialize in marketing to Baby Boomer women, the elderly, or parents of children with Cancer or Epilepsy.

6. Specialize in serving clients of a certain size.

This is a common differentiator, although some folks don’t think of it as such. Perhaps you work exclusively with insurance companies or employers that sponsor their own health insurance schemes without external insurance. Contrast that with a hospital or clinic that focuses on one off consumers. Either firm could have a competitive advantage over the firm that attempts to serve clients of all sizes.

7. All of your staff shares a specific characteristic or credential.

At Mercury Advisory Group, no billable consultant has less than a Master’s Degree, and at least 15 years of experience in their specialty area of expertise. We tried with new graduates, interns, and those with less experience but it just didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Everyone feels like they have a great team. So it’s tough to make that stick as a differentiator. But what if all of your surgeons hold PhDs in addition to their medical degrees and all have clinical trial experience in a rare domain area of expertise, that’s a valid differentiator.

8. Specialize in clients that share a common characteristic.

This differentiator is focused on a characteristic of your clients. They might be from a particular country, have a specific condition or combination of conditions, so you will have a competitive advantage. For example, a heart surgery specialty hospital in Kiev Ukraine does orthopedic surgery. Why? I had to ask! Because the anesthesiologists there are specially trained to manage complicated cases where people with serious heart conditions need more comprehensive case management for their orthopedic problems in a setting where their heart can be competently monitored better than in a generalized setting.

9. Focus on solving a specific medical challenge.

Here, the spotlight is not on the client as much as on the nature of the medical challenge they are facing. To work, it must be a challenge that is easily recognized and tough to solve without specialized skills and experience from the consumer. These solutions may also have a cultural component.

10. Have one or more individuals who are high visibility experts in their fields.

This is a time-tested strategy that works very well for hospitals wishing to set their differentiation. Having the country’s top expert in your specialty is a very powerful competitive advantage. Many hospitals’ medical tourism brands have been built on this differentiator alone. Add multiple high visibility experts in one specialty and you will have a compelling and very valuable brand.  Unfortunately, many hospitals try to promote their bricks and mortar, technology, and JCI accreditation instead of their physician assets. A big mistake in dealing with consumers that could car less about your JCI or your cardiac catheterization lab or your Ultra-high field 10 Tesla MRI in clinical trials.

11. Offer a unique business model.

Most hospitals and clinics in medical tourism bill by a fully-inclusive case price. Your price includes more amenities. A perfect differentiator is launched! A unique business model can be both meaningful and easy to prove. But be watchful. If it works well, you are likely to attract imitators and a price to value war, leaving only geographic destination preference as your tie breaker.

12. Have a specific geographic focus.

This is a very traditional differentiator. This can be cultural- or language-driven.

13. Offer access to a unique set of services not available elsewhere.

Sometimes, access to certain services can be very valuable to patients with complex needs. Do you have clinical trials data or methods or skills that no one else possesses? Some physicians have built very valuable practices around branded, proprietary data and methods not easily duplicated.

14. Offer a unique set of contacts or relationships not easily accessible.

While the previous differentiator focused on methods and data, this one is focused on relationships. What makes Cleveland Clinic and Clinica Universidad de Navarra special is their physician integration level. Everything is all in one electronic medical record for each person, no matter who treats them or provides consultation. What special relationships can your hospital, clinic or medical practice leverage?

15. Do business with a distinctive level of service.

In most cases, offering good client service is simply the price of entry. Everyone does it, or claims to. So to become a differentiator, your level of service really has to truly stand out. Can it be done? Indeed, there are still some physicians who make house calls. Some hospitals and clinics really do have an ultra-high level of royal class service. Others prize their ability to be good enough. I’ve actually heard some hospitals in India say that they are the Walmart of medical tourism. I buy cat litter at Walmart, but not shoes or accessories or organic foods…

16. Distinguish yourself by the clients you have.

Having an impressive client list is a plus for many doctors, hospitals and clinics. But what if you take it further? Some medical tourism providers differentiate themselves based on their client list. For example, if your hospital, clinic, or doctor cares for the prime minister, King or President, you have a differentiator. Never use these references without express WRITTEN permission.

17. Focus on the size of your hospital, clinic, or practice.

“We are the largest…fill in the blank.” “We are a boutique… fill in the blank.” Size sends a signal that you are doing something different that clients like. This combines nicely with a specialization to show both relevance (the specialty) as well as success. Find a smaller niche and dominate it.

18.  Emphasize your relationship with a parent hospital, clinic, medical group or trading partner.

A close relationship with a parent hospital, clinic, medical group, hotel chain, spa group, or some other qualifier can be a limiter (potential clients may feel like you cannot be objective about other brands, for example). But for other potential clients, it can be a big asset. This same differentiator might also be applied to situations where your firm is a value-added partner rather than a subsidiary. This is a frequently- encountered pairing in medical tourism because of the nature of combining a hospitality partner and a healthcare partner in one offer.

19. Focus on a notable signature accomplishment.

Some hospitals, clinics and physicians can build a strong brand based on achieving a notable accomplishment. Firms that invented or were involved in successful clinical trials for a new medical technology or solved a highly visible problem for a very well-known client are good examples. This type of notoriety can be leveraged throughout medical tourism and over time.

20. Specialize in producing a unique or very valuable result.

Similar to number 9, where you focus on a notable clinical challenge, this differentiator focuses on a valuable result. The key difference is that you may need to overcome multiple other health challenges to produce the valuable result. For example, you might specialize in spinal or neurological rehabilitation that enables people to walk again. This could involve solving a wide range of life and health challenges, rather than a single one.

21. Look or act differently than all of your competitors.

Most medical tourism providers (and facilitators) tend to look and act a lot like their competitors. Why? Perhaps they have been in the industry only a short time. Or perhaps doing things very differently feels risky. We see this all the time. Starting off with a blue ocean strategy a very different look and feel can be a powerful differentiator for this exact reason. Combine this with other differentiators and you have the makings of a robust competitive advantage.

There you have it, 21 differentiators that have proven to pass the three hurdles that every differentiator must clear. And remember, these can be combined in ways that make your firm unique in a way that no single differentiator can.