Medical travel is fast expanding in recent years as more patients are looking beyond their shores to get quality and affordable medical treatment. The rising cost of healthcare in the U.S. and other parts of the world continue to drive the industry and expand the market. However, while many new markets are emerging and reshaping the business of medical travel, many medical travel providers are still plagued with enormous challenges that limit their growth and profitability.
A 2023 survey by the Medical Tourism Association highlighted the challenges as well as key solutions across several regions. The survey, which reviewed more than 220 key medical tourism players from around the world, examined the limiting factors in some of the biggest markets in medical tourism.
The top five challenges according to the survey include:
- Marketing challenges
- Lack of patient leads
- Lack of patient referrals
- Lack of brand awareness
- Lack of expertise and knowledge
Marketing challenges were the biggest factor limiting growth across most of the markets surveyed. According to the survey, 60.2% of respondents identified this factor as the major impediment to growth and profitability.
The survey further revealed that this was the major growth limiting factor for medical travel programs and players in the Asia Pacific (37%), North America (36%), and South America (38%), as these markets.
Marketing challenges are the main drivers of poor access to patients. Poor understanding of the market dynamics and the unique needs of the target patient population often underline marketing challenges. These inevitably result in poor execution of marketing strategies or implementation of the wrong strategies.
Not clearly defining target patient population, utilizing wrong communication channels, underutilizing digital solutions, cultural incompetence, poor branding, and poor or non-existent online visibility are some of the marketing challenges affecting many medical tourism players and these lower patient trust and engagement.
Lack of Patient Leads
Lack of trust, poor marketing tools, and poor patient experience are some of the most common factors that impede conversion to leads. Millions of patients and health buyers search the internet for destinations they could potentially visit for their care and these factors are crucial to the decision-making process.
More than 53% of the respondents cited lack of patient leads as a key growth inhibitor, with this factor being one of the greatest challenges across all regions, particularly Asia Pacific (31.8%), North America (22.7%), and the Middle East (20.5%).
Poor patient experience, which affects every stage of the continuum of care, is a major factor lowering lead conversation rates for medical tourism players. Poor patient experience may present as poor patient communications, stressful pre-travel checks and interactions, poor information channels, and lack of a dedicated unit or department to coordinate care for international patients.
Lack of Patient Referrals
For many medical tourism organizations and healthcare providers, knowing where their target patients are is a huge problem. Many such health providers may have the most up-to-date and innovative treatment resources for the most complex medical problems but lack access to the patient population that require such treatments.
More than 40% of the respondents cited a lack of patient referral as a key limiting factor, stifling growth in the medical tourism business. This factor is among the chief challenges faced by the Asian Pacific (28.9%), North American (26.7%), European (14.4%), and South American (17.9%) markets, revealing a significant challenge with patient-provider network.
This burden often arises from poor relationships between referral organizations and healthcare providers and poor understanding of payment models in referral systems. This may be further complication by a lack of or poor utilization of tech solutions to optimize referrals and payment methods.
Lack of Brand Awareness
Many healthcare providers have the required staff, expertise, and resources to provide world class care to international clients but lack the branding needed to achieve outstanding results. Brand awareness requires understanding the patient population and what their needs are and creating structures to enable the organization meet those needs.
About 28.5% of the respondents identified lack of Brand awareness as a major limiting factor for growth and expansion, being a major challenge for the Asian Pacific market (33.3%). For the Latin American market, lack of brand awareness was also one of the main challenges in the Middle East, accounting for about 20% of the burden of growth problems in the region.
Branding informs building the right architecture for a medical travel business, which in turn builds trust and confidence in health consumers and payers, driving more inbound travel. Brand awareness gives providers the opportunity to display their expertise, the qualifications and experience levels of their medical teams, diversity and advancement of medical treatments offered, as well as the robustness of their medical travel program
Lack of Expertise and Knowledge
Understanding the dynamics of medical travel and implementing the right strategies to achieve optimal results requires expertise. This comes in the form of training, certifications, and resources from leaders and top stakeholders in the industry. Not having access to these will limit opportunities and market expansion for many medical tourism businesses.
Nearly 25% of respondents in the survey identified lack of expertise and knowledge as one of their biggest challenges, being a significant challenge in Asia and North America.
Medical travel programs that therefore leverage these resources are more likely to leap forward in the industry through knowledge of global best practices and turnkey strategies to attract and retain more international patients.
Global Healthcare Accreditation: Solving the Challenges in Medical Tourism
Global Healthcare Accreditation has been at the forefront of transformation in medical tourism for many decades. Being a leading international authority in accreditation and standards in the medical travel space, GHA offers resources and tools for medical travel businesses and programs to rethink their policies, procedures, and practices to boost patient experience and patient volumes.
GHA offers access to top stakeholders and strategic relationships that would help healthcare providers and medical travel businesses to build brand awareness, develop effective marketing skills, and reimagine patient experience along the care continuum. GHA also leverages its network of top industry leaders to expand a healthcare provider’s business strategy with turnkey metrics to improve performance and productivity.
GHA’s Accreditation and Certification Programs, including GHA Accreditation for Medical Travel and Certified Medical Travel Professional cover beyond the clinical side of the care process and offers providers access to international best practices in patient experience, training on strong business models for the international market, and resources on destination attractiveness.
To learn more about GHA and to set your business apart in the evolving landscape of medical tourism, click here.