An article on planning and hosting of tours for medical tourism facilitators that a hospital should strategically prepare for success

From the Medical Tourism Marketing & Branding Series

As a medical tourism facility, you will likely have many opportunities to show interested medical tourism facilitators and other interested patient referral sources the features of your hospital. One thing I have learned after touring countless hospitals in the United States and abroad is that not all fam tours should be conducted the same way, or even by the same person. In this paper, I will discuss the planning and hosting of tours for medical tourism facilitators that a hospital should strategically be prepared to conduct, who should be involved and provide guidance as to the level of detail that should be provided. Failure to do this wastes everyone’s time which is counterproductive and can be frustrating for both the guest and the hospital.

For one thing, if the information sought by the one taking the tour is not available, incorrect, or the guide is unprepared, the guest leaves with less than a favorable impression of the level of preparedness of the hospital or clinic. If the tour highlights parts of the hospital that the guest is not interested or is not likely to use (for example, maternity services and medical tourism are not usually a match) that time is probably taken away from parts of the hospital for which there may be greater interest, but is passed over.

Since medical tourism is new for many hospitals, I always provide a checklist of questions, concerns, and statistics I would like to know in advance of my arrival. As one with advanced degrees in health administration and experience in hospital management, marketing and clinical experience in the department of surgery, I have a completely different orientation to a hospital tour than an inexperienced but enthusiastic facilitator.

As the former CEO of the largest medical tourism network in the world, another dimension to my curiosity and inspection detail exists, as I am there as the eyes and ears of international health insurance plans and employers who are my clients. While it is nice to know about the upscale VIP rooms, and I certainly want to see them if only briefly, I know that my health plan clients and insurers are probably only going to consider coverage for a private or semi-private regular room in the event a plan subscriber takes ill or is injured while in their area.

For our medical tourism service lines, I certainly need to know about the amenities and basic products for medical tourists who choose to travel to the hotel and may select one hospital over another for a myriad of personal reasons. For that, my facilitation and case management staff needs to be fluent about the hospital but at a completely different level than that which meets my needs at the network level, and about different things. If I am accompanying an insurance executive or a human resources benefits buyer for a self-insured, employer sponsored health plan, the tour agenda and information highlighted will be completely different than either of the two previously mentioned visitors.

Determine the type of visitor you will host

In this article, I focused on planning the fam tour for the typical medical tourism facilitator. Out of respect to those facilitators who may possess medical or healthcare administration, I recognize that their interest may include information that is of a more technical and advanced nature, but even they will agree with me that this is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of today’s facilitators in 2012 do not possess a formal educational background and experience in hospital or healthcare administration or direct patient care.

Interested in what they can sell, how much it costs, value for the price paid, and knows their typical client profile (assuming they have had more than one or two in the life of their business). They are also interested in the financial relationship and how much income they will generate if they feature and steer heavily to your hospital or clinic over another. They will also be interested to make a face-to-face connection with the person who will likely take their calls and answer their emails to arrange a patient interview, prepare a price quotation and handle monetary transactions related to additional expense beyond the package, and who will interact with the patient at checkout time.

The typical medical tourism facilitator may have no clear understanding about international hospital accreditation beyond the fact that many articles state that a hospital should have a certain “brand” of international accreditation over another. They may not have a grasp of exactly what is surveyed during the biennial inspection survey. They may also have no background in statistics and thus have no ability to critically evaluate the data included in clinical outcomes which may be presented in a manner in which doctors, hospital quality personnel and healthcare executives are accustomed to conversing. IF they have no understanding about hospital provider credentialing, life safety code compliance, or quality and infection control metrics, now is not the time, nor is it your responsibility to teach it to them. It may simply be over their head. It may suffice to simply tell them that your facility is or is not accredited and by whom and where you are in the accreditation process if you are not, and when the next inspection is scheduled if you are.

What’s that ?

He or she may or may not understand the medical technology, may have little to no anatomy and physiology or medical terminology vocabulary, and may have never seen the inside of the hospital beyond the emergency room, front lobby, newborn nursery from a window or labor and delivery. It might be that they one had their own surgery or accompanied a loved one or friend through an episode of care. If that is the case, they may have a distorted recollection of what was happening around the perhaps because of peri-operative medications, stress, or preoccupation from the medical event, as opposed to having a clear head and thinking through a checklist of things they need to note.

As a facilitator, they should be interested in talking with the arrival coordinator for the hospital, and to learn where their client will initially be received and by whom. They may also wish to see the car or mode of transportation that will be used to collect the patient on arrival at the airport and understand what happens to their client from the moment they step off the aircraft onto the jet bridge (assuming there is one). They will want to assess the English (or other) language fluency of the medical tourism department staff, the nursing staff, the physicians who will treat their clients, and the administrative staff that is responsible for checkout, medical records, dietary, etc. Their job is to prepare their client for what to expect through the entire episode of care. This in turn contributes to higher patient satisfaction scores when outcomes are measured.

One way the hospital can help with this is to structure the tour so that they not only experience the on-site arrival process, but also experience a typical patient meal, view the patient menu selections, review the availability of television station options, internet connectivity, and expected behavior or rules that the patient must follow during their confinement. For example, is the patient permitted to go to the gift shop or food establishments in the hospital lobby if their condition permits? What if they would like to purchase stationary, postage stamps, a magazine or shampoo? If there is a telephone in the room, is the patient permitted (and is the telephone enabled) to call mobile phones and landlines alike? In many countries, calls to mobile phones incur a surcharge. Is their client able to leave a credit card deposit for such incidentals? Is it included in the room rate? Or is it simply unavailable. Where will their luggage be stored while they are confined in the hospital? Can they smoke in their room? Are they permitted to request a snack from the dietary department any time of the day or night? What about a cup of coffee or tea?

If their client has a question or concern while confined in the hospital, who will be their advocate? How will they be summoned to the bedside? If they have a problem with an internet connection in their room, who will troubleshoot it? Will the internet connection have enough bandwidth to use VOIP connections such as Skype of Google Chat? Is the connection wireless or LAN?

Are You Ready?

The facilitator should also be interested in bilingual signage and patient information resources. Are the exit maps in each room in more than one language? What about telephone dialing directions? Patient instructions? One suggestion, in every hotel in the world, there exists a guest services directory. It lists information about guest mail, laundry and dry cleaning, automated teller machine (ATM) availability to access cash for incidentals, internet service, spa menus, room service and restaurant options, gift shop hours, telephone surcharges and dialing instructions, etc.. It might also list things like a Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion table to help their client set an individually-controlled thermostat in their room. It might also describe a programming list for the television stations and give a sample of what types of familiar programs may be broadcast and at which times.

Finally, they should be interested in the discharge process that their client will experience. How will their coordination back to the airport be handled and by whom? Will a hospital employed driver take them to the airport or a taxi? If they recently had surgery, who will assist them with their luggage? Are they expected to tip? If so, how much? Will someone accompany them to the gate? Will a wheelchair or other assistance be provided?

What if their client has pain after discharge? Will they be discharged with adequate pain medication for their journey home? How and when will the patient receive a copy of their medical records? Will the records be translated to the language they need to share the records with their aftercare provider? What about x-rays, MRIs and other diagnostic imaging reports? Are they supplied on a CD, DVD or USB drive? Transmitted directly to the aftercare physician? To the facilitator? When will they be available?

What special amenities can you offer?

Since visitor/inspector is a medical “tourism” facilitator, they will likely be interested in what is nearby to the facility. Hotels, tourist activities, safety concerns, approved tour guides, historic and cultural sites, restaurants, and other travel and hospitality topics should be discussed. It is helpful to have brochures and a contact list handy for the facilitator and to note whether or not the hospital will be involved in any of those relationships or if the information is supplied simply as a courtesy. There should be transparency with regards to any commissionable relationships already established between the hospital and those other companies or providers so that there are no misunderstandings or toes stepped on.

Some of the more established medical tourism facilitators will likely carry professional liability insurance for their own actions. A knowledgeable representative from the hospital should be prepared to discuss matters surrounding a negative turn of events, including patient falls and other injuries, iatrogenic injuries, anaphylactic reactions, and things for which there may be professional liability on the part of the hospital or physician or nurse. What happens if the awareness of the matter occurs after discharge and after the patient returns home? A open and honest discussion of these topics should be a part of any tour, but especially for the facilitator who is giving their personal recommendation of the provider. Another related matter that should be discussed is what to expect of their client unexpectedly dies during the episode of care?

If the facilitator is based in the United States, he or she will be subject to the certain federal regulatory compliance, including Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 (P.L.104-191), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act ( HITECH), the Privacy Act of 1974, among others. As such, they will be interested in how the hospital, physician and others will assist them to maintain compliance with these regulations. There are similar regulatory compliance concerns in other countries. Regardless of where the facilitator is located, the hospital, its employees and subcontractors and attending physicians will be expected to maintain seamless compliance with any of these as a vendor to the facilitator.

The medical tourism facilitator as the provider’s marketing agent

What are your sales goals for them? From a marketing and sales perspective, what should you share with the facilitator who will be your extended sales agent? Of course, pricing and service lines or products is key. But what about recent or differentiating services, innovations, packages, amenities, etc.? Upcoming additions to the service lines, new technology and what it does (in lay terms), new physicians of regional or international renown, physicians who have recently been recognized or published for a certain technique or discovery or advancement (again, translated into lay terms).

Just like when you are seated in a restaurant and the server proffers the menu, they also direct the customer’s attention to any special promotions, and often suggestive sell certain items that may have a short perishability or variability because they are dependent on who provides them and when and where they will be provided. You may wish to share with them the products or services that the hospital wishes to launch, push or feature. In the same regard, the hospital may wish to downplay certain services it will soon abandon, has determined to be unprofitable, inappropriate for high satisfaction medical travel outcomes from both a clinical and/or patient satisfaction perspective, hospital will soon lose the key physician who will provide them due to retirement or job change. Does the hospital or physician provide a confidential newsletter update especially for facilitators to apprise them of special promotions, events, or featured new services since their fam tour? Provide back issues to them.

So now I have highlighted for you some of the things to consider when designing the tour and preparing for the medical tourism facilitator.

How to structure the agenda of the medical tourism fam tour.

Upon arrival, the guests should be taken to a reception area and offered bottled water, a coffee or tea. On the way to the reception area, it is always nice to pass by the wall of honor that displays the hospitals accreditation and other meritorious recognitions. In many hospitals, there is usually a bust or statue of the founder. It is nice to review the contributions of that benefactor and a short, concise history of the hospital.

As far as introductions go, it is nice to have the hospital administrator, managing director or executive welcome the facilitator, prepare a few sentence welcome statement and introduce their staff and key personnel. Business cards should be provided as each one introduces themselves so that name and role associations may be made one-by-one. Next, the facilitator should be permitted to make their own introduction and express their delight and appreciation for the hospital’s willingness to receive them and take time to show them the hospital. You should expect that the facilitator will want to tell you a little about their business, its history, and their background in the industry. If necessary, plan to have an interpreter on hand.

At a teaching hospital, often the attending physicians who will treat patients are on campus and may wish to say hello. At a private hospital, the physicians may not be available to take the time to do more than say hello and often may be where they should be, in clinic or in the operating room. If that is the case, have their CV and a brief introduction about their cases, special interests and their photograph available. One thing that we can arrange for a private hospital is a video brochure compilation of the featured medical tourism specialists each with a twenty second spot to enable the facilitator to assess language fluency, accent, and a glimpse of their personality and special interests. Often, the private physicians are willing to contribute to the cost of this video and it can be added to any video production that the hospital will undertake for very little additional cost.

Next, take time to introduce the staff who will interact with the facilitator, from the person who answers the emails all the way up to the executive in charge of the department. Offer a one page directory of names, addresses, telephone, fax and email addresses with a departmental hierarchy tree. This is helpful if the facilitator needs to climb up the chain of command to resolve a serious issue.

If a video about the hospital is to be shown, it should include some brief footage about the history of the hospital, if it is related to a larger corporation or has multiple noteworthy benefactors, and if it has received honors in the healthcare quality area, community recognition, recognition from the Ministry of Health and / or Ministry of Tourism. A bullet point list of the currently available technology, the number of beds, nursing ratios, medical staff, medical records details, etc. , should be shown along with any notes about upcoming additions to the hospital’s portfolio of technology. These should be up to date.

A video post-production editor can slip in recent updates to technology without having to re-shoot the entire video and simply resave the edited update onto new media. The video should not have a run time of more than 8-10 minutes. Don’t forget to show a short clip of the mode of transportation to get their client to and from the airport, whether it is a nice clean taxi, light rail, limousine, shuttle bus or something else and discuss driver credentialing and insurance in the case of an accident on the way to or from the hospital.

Are you ready to market your hospital to the world? Do you need help?

Call on Mercury Advisory Group experts to assist you with your marketing strategy and preparation to host surveyors, inspectors, insurers, and facilitators. +1.303.823.4662