There are millions of family caregivers in the United States. Even more exist in cultures where people are not placed in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Medical tourism marketers must include this group in their target audiences.
Four in 10 people (39%) are caring for an adult or child with significant health issues. These numbers will continue to grow as longevity extends through anti-aging and regenerative medicine interventions. With the many clients I advise on medical tourism marketing strategy the discussion of source market targeting always comes up. Never once has the client considered marketing to this group of targeted consumers. I have always been the one to mention this group and add it to the mix. After consulting in more than 60 countries on medical tourism marketing, one cannot argue that this is not a critical oversight on the part of the doctors, clinics and hospitals. That’s why I thought I would blog about the topic today.
Caregivers can have just as much influence as the relative they care for, especially when it comes to choosing hospitals, doctors and treatments. Medical tourism marketers must identify specific strategies to reach this growing demographic. They are actually incentivized to find solutions to alleviate dependency, restore independence and active lifestyles for their elders and children because it restires their own freedom and reduces their caregiving duties. Keep in mind that they may live in different locations from those for whom they are responsible through the magic of technologies available today.
Let’s examine the caregiver personae and their similarities.
In 1983, when I began my first medical tourism development project, it was a combined project to guide investors to convert an abandoned beachfront hotel property and convert the property into a mixed use facility for a senior retirement living and medical tourism recovery spa. This was where I first noticed this connection.
In 1988, I also worked as a contracted ombudsman at another senior retirement living development (1500 residents with three levels of care) and dealt directly with caregivers to advocate for their dependent relatives as an extension of the caregivers when the caregivers lived out of town or out of state. I chose and arranged doctors, health facilities, scheduled appointments for dental, vision, and other services, helped them write checks to pay their bills, and interacted directly with the caregivers and legal guardians on a daily basis. This is why medical tourism facilitation was so natural for me for the past three decades. In fact, I used my background in travel and as a tour operator to organize trips to Mexico for dental care, prescription eyewear, and prescription medication shopping for the more active seniors. We simply didn’t call it medical tourism, but that was exactly what it was. I arranged the medical, tourism, accommodation, meal stops, and sightseeing activities into a bundled excursion for them at an affordable price framed as a motorcoach tour. (I started arranging motorcoach tours from the age of 16 when I arranged logistics to transport my high school marching band to field trip events and parades.)
Here’s what I notice now:
- They embrace technology. Caregivers are more likely than the general population to search for health information online, including material on medical problems, treatments and drugs. In the pre-internet days they would ask me, trained as a nurse, to do the literature searches and vet providers. Now they are more independent. The do their own searches. That means that providers and their brands must be able to be found on those Google Searches. That doesn’t mean Google AdWords, that means organic search results. That comes from proper SEO techniques to rise to the top.
- They feel stretched thin. In addition to caring for their dependent(s), more than half of family caregivers are employed full-time. In addition, more than 75 percent have children under age 18 living with them. Here’s a touchpoint for professional medical tourism facilitators to bring value as an extension of the caregiver’s assistant. Facilitators: study what it takes to be a caregiver and then gap fill the role for them. There’s no medical tourism certification course for this. It is about common sense and ont-the-job training. To go beyond this level of competence, the proper route would be to obtain certification as a Certified Case Manager or Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The Master’s level training for this would be to obtain a Master of Public Health with emphasis in this discipline.
- They don’t consider themselves caregivers. Family caregivers tend not to identify themselves as such, meaning marketing aimed at “family caregivers” would not be relevant to them and could cause them not to engage with your brand or message if used. I’ll wager a guess that in cultures outside of the USA the term is not used at all, so using it is a waste of words and not something to use as a keyword for search purposes. Ask native speakers from the culture to whom you are marketing for the right idiomatic phrase to capture their attention.
- They are not limited to only wives and daughters. It’s common for wives and daughters to participate in loved ones’ medical care, but they’re being joined in growing numbers by men, daughters-in-law, siblings, friends and neighbors. My husband, Alan, a man with an MBA from the prestigious Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Clarement University, was a team caregiver for an elderly neighbor for several years until she passed. He did her shopping, helped her with banking and taxes, visited her in the hospital. Another neighbor gap filled when he traveled for work. He was raised in a culture of giving service and elder respect as a boy scout that rose all the way to the prestigious “Order of the Arrow”. He named our Siamese cat, Grace, as a tribute to her memory. He says he never once thought of himself as a “caregiver” and would not have identified himself with the term. He just “did it”.
The infographic below from Pew Internet Health Tracking Survey provides more demographic insight about this target market and referral source to help you plan your target marketing strategy.
Successfully reaching and engaging caregivers is not only good for the medical tourism business, it’s also becoming an integral part of delivering patient-centered services. Overlook or dismiss this source referral market at your business’ disadvantage.
Medical tourism marketing to caregivers
Now that you know about the behaviors, needs and interests of caregivers, here are 4 ways to market your medical tourism brand and engage with them:
Feeling isolated and overwhelmed, many people caring for others turn to social media for support. Connect with them by offering tips to solve common challenges or moderating online discussions in a condition-specific forum. Engage with them when they share a family message or make a prayer request or share that aspect of their life. Offer to be of service, even if only to serve as an information resource.They will remember you when they need more.
Caregivers lack basic training in this new role. There isn’t much out there to teach them best practices or instruct them in “how to be a caregiver”. Help them gain important knowledge and skills through expert blog posts. Topics may include home safety, infection prevention and medication management, how to choose providers, health facilities, and sort through features that position your medical tourism solution giving you a competitive advantage.
Help those in charge of providing care to relatives or friends to stay organized with a free app that offers features such as shareable task lists, a calendar to track appointments, daily treatment schedule and medication reminders. To create a branded app could easily cost six-figures to develop, test, and distribute. So for starters, unless you are a giant hospital chain you probably won’t be doing this just for your medical tourism business because you would probably never meet ROI for it with the 10-20% of revenue anticipated from medical tourism at its peak in your facility. However, many a medical tourism “cluster” could afford to do this as a destination marketing strategy project to benefit all stakeholders in the cluster.
Start by creating a simple interface that allows users to access functions in as few clicks as possible, then offer features that help solve your patient’s most pressing problems.
This may include such amenities as:
- One-button prescription refill
- Online bill pay
- ‘Find a doctor’ feature with online appointment request/scheduling
- Secure messaging to physicians or nurses
- Reminders or alarms for time sensitive self care actions, such as taking medications, procedure preparation or post discharge care
- Indoor GPS to help patients and their families access amenities within your facility
- Clinic appointment check-ins
- Updates on public health alerts
Avoid these common mistakes and increase your app’s “stickiness”
- Preaching to the choir: People downloading your app have already made a commitment to your brand so don’t waste their time with marketing information.
- Displaying health information: People rarely use their smartphones – much less an app – to conduct research in this way.
- Being redundant with your website: Users are not likely to download or even keep an app with repackaged website content. Make sure you offer unique features that allow patients to interact with your brand in a meaningful way.
- A ‘Swiss army knife’ approach: Focus! Limit your app to features that provide the greatest benefit to the audience that is most likely to use it.
- Taking the path less traveled: Features like ER wait times and urgent care locations don’t offer the ongoing utility that will endear users to your brand. Save these things for your website. Most medical tourism experiences do not involve an emergency department encounter.
Personal health records:
Share tools to help caregivers set up, access and maintain their loved ones’ personal health record (PHR). If your PHR platform supports secure patient/physician communication, this is a useful feature to promote. Set it up so that they can also have a calendar to share the visitation and occupational therapy and support to share in the duties of intensive support when necessary.
I hope that this article has provided insight to you on a topic you may not have considered in the past. If you require further assistance to build your medical tourism marketing strategy to appeal to and engage caregivers, please call on me. I am available to provide a brief scheduled consultation to meet your needs. The cost of the consultation is a commitment of only an hour or two to discuss your ideas and provide further input and feedback.