Medical tourism destination development requires a continuous process of coordination and development of amenities, health and accommodation facilities, local transportation, airport readiness for physically challenged visitors, gastronomy, and other products and health services.
A destination’s health and medical tourism products, renowned medical specialists, health facilities, and natural or built attractions and experiences drive a visitor’s medical tourism destination choice.
Most price sensitive medical tourism consumers place some priority on overall value – not cheap surgery. If all your destination can promote is rapid access to cheap surgery – there’s no doubt in my mind that you will fail.
– Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
“Medical Tourism Master Plan Development”
4th Medical Tourism Global Forum, Keynote Address
Mexicali, Mexico (2013)
Developing appropriate and innovative medical tourism tourism product is essential for the long term sustainability of a medical tourism destination. Medical tourism product development should be based on:
- Meeting medical tourism visitors’ needs and demands
- Creating a sustainable competitive advantage and enabling competition among stakeholders
- Developing a brand at the national or regional level, the facility level, and the medical specialist/therapist level
- Resource commitment (time, money, capacity development, education, operational infrastructure, and leadership training)
- A practicable action plan
- A sound marketing plan
- Metrics and standards of participation
- An efficient way to collect, interpret, and analyze data into informative, actionable reports
In many destination development projects for medical tourism, we’ve experienced some hurdles that can threaten the chances for success with the medical tourism destination development process. Careful navigation and experience in the planning phase leads to converting threats into strengths and opportunities.
Resentment issues (the “Threats”)
In some locations, medical tourism destination development has brought about resentment from the host communities. This can be attributed to several factors, each of them case specific. In some cases, public hospitals have attempted to enter medical tourism. These hospitals, funded through public finance allocation and no cost reporting infrastructure, and with resources stretched to the max causing long queues in health access for locals, start selling non-existent excess capacity. This causes resentment of the local community because they may have no other option and don’t appreciate being moved further back in the queue in favor of paying customers. If their taxes are being used to cover the public finance allocation, one could argue that they pre-paid for the care that is now being prioritized for visitors that pay more.
A second resentment issue arises when doctors leave the public health system to enter medical tourism in the private sector in hopes of making more money. This is often referred to as “brain drain”. This occurs more often than the public health facilities attempting to sell non-existent excess capacity. Brain drain occurs all over the world, among both the physician and nursing ranks.
A third resentment issue arises in destinations where communism was dominant in the recent past. The culture of the community is often accustomed to everyone owning everything, and all from the public side. The whole idea of investors owning a private health system or facility is anathema to the local culture, even if communism is no longer the prevailing political sentiment. This takes generations to transition through change. Proponents of free-market capitalism believe that they are bringing investment to the local market that will deliver quality experiences for visitors and enhance residents’ well being through better jobs at every skill level, satellite spend by tourists, and the addition of a privatized option to sources health services. This brings freedom of choice in healthcare for anyone willing to pay out of pocket or covered by private insurance.
We need to revise our economic thinking to give full value to our natural resources. This revised economics will stabilize both the theory and the practice of free-market capitalism. It will provide business and public policy with a powerful new tool for economic development, profitability, and the promotion of the public good.
– Paul Hawken
Destination planning is an integral part of medical tourism strategy (the “Opportunity”)
Managing destination development is fundamental to successful ‘Implementation’ of health/medical tourism management. In health tourism planning, destination authorities, destination management companies (DMCs) and the variety of medical tourism stakeholders put into action the priority strategies and plans developed during a medical tourism destination development planning process. these projects usually involve three distinct deliverable in Terms of Reference (ToR) contracts The destination development process begins with a ‘Situation Analysis’ and continues through charretting ‘Planning Process’.
Sometimes, charretting can be intimidating, expensive, time-consuming, and unproductive. This happens when consultants who are not experts in the domain area act as facilitators of the charretting workshop. They may be called upon to work with a community with which they aren’t very familiar. Some are concerned little about participation and buy-in, and they tend to operate almost mechanically, moving through the outcome-focused workshop driven by the goal of producing a paper strategy that can never really be implemented.
In order to do the charretting successfully and produce a practicable medical tourism destination strategy, the facilitator must be knowledgeable about the day-to-day operational issues that will arise in medical tourism. This requires familiarity with healthcare management, clinical operations, tourism and hospitality management, airport operations, tourism, health travel logistics, and the necessary organization development (OD) skills that are required to empower community members and public policy officials with a balanced voice in a project’s design development.
The OD practitioner as facilitator presiding over the charretting workshop can “crowdsource” the wisdom and passions of the participants. This is done by actively engaging and connecting strangers to establish a comfortable environment for asserting one’s values.
According to Maria Todd, one of the most prominent experts in medical tourism destination planning and an OD practitioner of more than 30 years, “One often overlooked asset to include in the charretting process: local urban and regional planners with background in public health. they view destination development and the built environment with fresh perspectives that will be different from stakeholders, hoteliers, doctors, and hospital managers. Another is a local economist knowledgeable about each city or region that will be included in the plan. I always ask that they be included in my charretting workshops for medical tourism destination planning because they bring a unique set of market realities that would take me months of desk and local research to gather on my own.”
Regrettably, the lack of these core competencies and the focus on producing an impracticable paper strategy has been a major factor in the failures experienced by many medical tourism destinations that chose incompetent facilitators to build their medical tourism operational and local value chain “cluster”. The other shortcomings have included:
- failure to budget adequate time to plan and conduct the charretting workshop (4-5 working days)
- failure to adequately research and categorize the destination assets of each destination to be developed
- failure to budget adequate funding to hire the right OD practitioner (from wherever they happen to reside) to preside over the planning and facilitation of the charretting workshop
- failure to adequately support the breakout sessions of the charretting workshop with other expert facilitators to work with the OD practitioner
- failure to use the charretting workshop as an opportunity to articulate and establish regulatory framework, educational requirements, brand standards, and measurable technical standards for health, tourism, transport, and agency (facilitators, travel agents, DMCs) representatives of the medical tourism brand
- too long a lag in the forward movement after the charretting session – including delays in official resolutions, information distribution, and rumor-mongering by those who did not attend
- attempting to launch an entire national strategy instead of creating one or more carefully developed pilot programs for first movers, and a phased staging process that allows second movers to adequately prepare and then join in the market when they are ready to uphold brand standards.