The statistics on International Health Travel are mind-boggling, to say the least. The KPMG-FICCI Report on Medical Value Travel (2014) said that the industry is set to touch about USD 32.5 Billion by 2019, growing at a CAGR of 17.9%. As the industry matures and moves up the learning curve, hospitals have to step up and ensure that the patient experience matches or exceeds expectations – and these expectations are changing everyday!
Having been in this industry for over 19 years now, I have seen the evolution of services provided for international patients. A few years ago, the establishment of the International Patient Care Department was thought to be the first and most important step in order to cater to international patients. Top class medical care, good service, low cost, translators, country-specific food, and beverages were thought to be sufficient to attract international patients.
But these basics have become hygiene factors today – it is a given that any hospital wishing to cater to international patients would have these facilities in place. The discerning international health traveller of today, or even Payors/Insurers for that matter, are looking for much more beyond the hygiene factors.
Some of the emerging expectations from Hospitals include:
- Telehealth and Mobile Health
- International Accreditations & Collaborations
- Best Practices in Medical Documentation and Data Management
- End-to-End Health Travel Solutions
Telehealth & Mobile Health: It is estimated that there will be about 2.08 billion smartphone users by the end of 2016 and this is expected to reach about 5 billion by 2019. As I see it, there is an app for everything – to locate a place or order food or order medicine or have a consultation. Hospitals have to get on to this bandwagon and ensure that their international patients have easy access to fix online appointments and have video consultations with their doctors. This is especially true before the patient arrives for treatment and also post departure to their home country. This will, in all probability, save a few trips for the patient while they can still be in touch with the treating team. Telehealth or telemedicine has reached some level of maturity in many countries. Mobile health coupled with telehealth is now a must-have for a hospital catering to international patients. “Updates” is the order of the day. Patients, payors, insurers, facilitators – everybody in the value chain expects updates – and what better way to do this than mobile updates!
International Accreditations & Collaborations: With JCI being the gold standard in international accreditation of hospitals, collaborations with some of the top medical centres in the world take it a step further. Such collaborations ensure that best practices from these top medical centres are adopted and put into practice. Medical collaboration ensures sharing of professional expertise between institutions. This instils confidence in international patients that they will get the best possible care.
Best Practices in Medical Documentation and Data Management: While there are several geography-specific medical documentation standards, basic best practices in medical data management remain almost similar. Data security is of utmost importance in this field. Hospitals would benefit much by investing in robust and secure Hospital Information Systems with Electronic Medical Records. This ensures that patient data is safe and it can be shared with the patient as well as their family doctors or Specialists back home. Payors/Insurers would be more open to networking with hospitals that have international standards of data capture and management.
End-to-End Health Travel Solutions: Today’s international health travellers look for complete end-to-end solutions for their health travel – everything right from initial query management, video consultation, choice of hospitals, air travel, travel documentation, regulatory requirements, communication requirements, accommodation, local transport, etc. to be handled by a single agency. While this may not be the core competency of hospitals, it can be handled very well by professional health travel consultants. Hospitals would greatly benefit by associating with professional health travel advisories to ensure that their patients are completely taken care of. The hospitals can focus on the medical outcomes per se without having to worry about other aspects.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any governmental/other agency. Patient names have been changed to protect their identity. This article contains facts that have been obtained from reliable sources, but may be subject to change with time. The author will not be responsible in any way for the comments given by readers.