Helping patients make the right choice of medical tourism service

More and more people are using online reviews to make decisions about the products and service that they buy. Consumers worldwide want to hear from “people like me” before they make a decision about which product or service to buy. TripAdvisor has become the first place that many people visit when they are planning a holiday or booking a hotel.

So, would medical tourists benefit from hearing about the experiences of other people who have travelled abroad for treatment? Undoubtedly, Yes!.

The web is now the first place that people look to research hospitals and clinics online before they decide where to go. Choosing a doctor, operation, or hospital, is a big decision, and the more opinions a patient can gather, the more secure they feel with their ultimate choice.

The philosophy of our online business is "helping patients to make the right choice". That's why we've just launched Treatment Abroad Ratings and Reviews to provide patients with the “word of mouth” that will help them to make the right choice of medical tourism service, hospital or clinic. We know from other areas of industry that:
  • 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a supplier, if it has ratings and reviews.
  • 77% of online shoppers use reviews and ratings when purchasing.
  • 82% of those who read reviews say that their purchasing decisions are directly influenced by those reviews.

But how much trust can people put in reviews of such services? A medical tourism agency, hospital or clinic, doctor or dentist may be tempted to either:

  • Create a fake review to promote their own service.
  • Create a fake review to damage a competitor’s reputation.

We have chosen BazaarVoice as the partner for our Ratings and Reviews system because of their ability to identify fake reviews through the algorithms they run on review submissions, the tracking of IP addresses of reviewers, the validation of email addresses, and BazaarVoice’s experience of moderating thousands of reviews for major clients every month.

We have also warned clients and healthcare providers that any attempt to bias our reviews service will result in immediate removal of all review content.

We'll see how Treatment Abroad Ratings and Reviews develops over the coming months. But we're sure it will help potential medical tourists to differentiate between the good and bad in terms of medical tourism service providers.

McKinsey and the medical tourism numbers game...

According to a new report on medical tourism from McKinsey (login required):
  • "Between 60,000 and 85,000 people annually travel abroad for inpatient hospital care, a number.....far lower than commonly assumed".

According to the Wall Street Journal:

  • ... the McKinsey report "contrasts sharply" with common assumptions and with figures often used by those who market medical tourism. "There's been an enormous amount of hype" regarding people traveling abroad to receive necessary procedures at a lower cost, Mango (from McKinsey) said.

So what are we to make of this "authoritative" report.....?

One industry insider who has compiled a comprehensive review of medical tourism suggests:

  • "The McKinsey figures are nonsensical......looking just at figures from Asia for travellers from Asia and the Gulf, they are way way out."

One problem with the McKinsey data is that it relies heavily on government statistics, and few governments record medical travel. Even where figures are collected then they do not include home nationals who work overseas going back for treatment, or US and other residents returning to a country of origin for treatment.

It's also a strange method of counting medical tourists, if you decide to leave out:

  • people travelling across borders for treatment, which would include UK to France or Belgium, Canada to the US, the US to Mexico, Mexico to the US , China to Taiwan or Hong Kong, central Africa to South Africa , Ireland to the UK, etc etc.
  • people travelling back to their homeland for treatment.
  • people travelling to the homeland of their parents/grandparents
  • expatriates working overseas
  • people who decide to mix travel and treatment eg UK travellers to Spain, South Africa
  • people who mix business travel and treatment
  • people who live in two countries eg UK and Spain
  • And..all outpatients

Other oddities...

If they reckon the number of medical tourists are 60,000 to 85,000 worldwide, how does this stack up against other reported data:

  • 70,000 - 100,000 UK medical tourists (from our own Treatment Abroad medical tourism research and the UK International Passenger Survey data)
  • Last year, 92,000 patients from the UAE visited the Philippines.
  • One dental clinic alone in Budapest that is treating over 4,000 patients from abroad each year.
  • 10,000 visitors to Korea last year for medical treatment, according to the Korean Tourism Organisation.
  • Singapore Tourism Board says 555,000 tourists received medical treatment in 2006.

And overall... it is a little strange to say that someone travelling overseas for a hip operation is a medical tourist, but someone travelling for a dental extraction or cosmetic surgery is not.

Whatever the real numbers are, McKinsey did conclude:

  • "Medical travel is a highly relevant market ........ The acceleration of unsustainable health care costs in many developed economies, the advent of advanced technologies in just a few locations, and the increasing concentration of wealth in developing economies are only a few of the factors fueling it. Over the next couple of decades, these trends may largely dispel the idea that health care is a purely local service"

So... good news for the medical travel industry!