How to run a medical tourism conference...

Autumn is conference season, and it seems that medical tourism is becoming the most talked about subject on the conference platform. Three years ago, there was little interest in this area, but in 2008 it seems that every events company and association has jumped on the conference bandwagon.

In recent weeks, I've attended the World Health Tourism Congress in San Francisco, the Health Tourism Development Conference in Vienna, the Health Tourism Show in London, the Global Healthcare Conference in Dubai and spoken on medical tourism to a meeting of UK NHS management, and to a Cerner Healthcare Convention in Kansas. My colleague, Philip Archbold has spoken at the Indian Medical Tourism Congress in Chennai. Coming up...I'm off to address the International Medical Travel Conference in Korea, and speak at a meeting of the Cyprus Health Promotion Board.

So, I've become a bit of a medical tourism conference "groupie.....

But it prompts the question: Do we need all these events, and are they actually worthwhile?

In my previous company, one of the core activities was event planning and management; many of these events were within the healthcare sector. So, I do have some knowledge of what makes a good event and what can go wrong. Being an attendee/speaker/delegate at these medical tourism events has been an eye opener. Frankly, compared to other industries most of them aren't delivering the goods.

Where's it going wrong?

Here are my top ten recommendations for medical tourism event organisers:

1. Set some objectives....
Most of the medical tourism events that I have attended seem to have some kind of vague objective of "let's get a bunch of people together to "address some of the issues", and facilitate some networking (and we'll make a bunch of money while we do it.....).

2. ....and measure your success!
If you don't have SMART objectives, you can't measure your success. Sending out a post event "What did you think of the conference?" survey is the usual cop out in this respect..but what is it actually measuring? Most medical tourism conferences don't even bother with this most basic of measurement tools.

3. Plan the agenda
The current approach appears to be mainly along the lines of "who can we get to speak". Why not plan an agenda, and then identify those people who would be best to cover specific topics? Let's have some speakers from outside of the medical tourism fraternity who can give a different perspective!

4. Buy professional expertise
If events aren't your core expertise, buy some expert help. Get a professional event organiser in to plan, market and run the conference, The Medical Tourism Association did a great job of getting numbers to the San Francisco Congress, but in terms of structure, content and organisation ........

5. Abolish the all day plenary session
Different people have different information needs. The medical tourism industry is a melting pot of providers, purchasers, facilitators, insurers, etc etc. Run specific, smaller workshops or sessions that cover key issues for targeted groups of delegates. Start the day with a lively, thought provoking keynote presentation then break the audience into smaller sessions. The Cerner Healthcare Convention has cracked this one. A stimulating keynote address each day followed by 300 plus targeted workshops for the 5,000 plus attendees.

6. Fire some of the speakers
I've seen good, bad and just plain awful this year. My greatest gripe? Speakers who have been given a clear and very specific brief...and then ignore it completely, often making a "This is what we do in XXXX, aren't we wonderful" presentation. All speakers are guilty of promoting their own interest/business. That's part of why they are there, and it's to be expected. But, it shouldn't make up 100% of their presentation. If you want me to name names, I'll email
them to you....

7. Ban the "destination presentation"
The conference platform is not the place to run a 30 minute "advertisement" ..... "my country/destination/hospital/company has the "highest quality healthcare", "state of the art technology" etc etc

8. Organise
If you're going to attempt to run some structured networking or "buyer meets seller" sessions, plan it properly, match up the right people and run it like clockwork. Take a look at other industries and see how well they do this.

9. Keep to time
If there's one thing a conference must do, especially when it's based on parallel sessions is run to time. If speakers over run, turn off the mike. Dubai could learn a thing or two here.

10. Make it fun!
Liven it up! We're human beings. We're out of our regular job for a few days. We want to enjoy ourselves. Will someone please do something different.....!

Finally, one medical tourism conference not to miss in 2009; the 2nd European Congress on Health Tourism in Budapest. Why? Under the guidance of a medical tourism expert, Dr Uwe Klein, perhaps this one will hit the mark?

Medical tourism: The answer to the global healthcare problem?

A recent article from McKinsey International highlights the magnitude of the challenge that leaders of governments in the developed countries are going to have to deal with sooner rather than later. The article looks at the increasing proportion of a country's wealth that is going to be dedicated to the health of its citizens in future years.

In Europe currently around 9% of GDP is spent on healthcare; in the USA, it's higher, nearer 16% of GDP. For the last fifty years, the increase in health care spending in OECD countries has been 2% above the GDP...... which means that healthcare is taking an increasing proportion of the national wealth. But what happens if this continues? McKinsey says that "if current trends persist to 2050, most OECD countries will spend a fifth of GDP on healthcare. By 2080, Switzerland and the United States will devote more than half of GDP to it, and by 2100 most other OECD countries will reach this level of spending."

Those are pretty astonishing statistics! There's a decent analysis in the article, outlining the supply and demand factors that drive this growth, and offering some arguments as to why this trend will not or cannot continue at this rate. However, the harsh reality is that whatever governments do, they and their citizens will be faced by the burden of ever increasing healthcare costs.

And that's the reason why healthcare is becoming global, and medical tourism is being talked about as one of the solutions. More and more, governments will not be able to provide and consumers will not be able to afford the healthcare that they need. The global market in healthcare provision will expand to meet the growing demand from both consumers and governments for low cost treatment overseas. And that's where medical tourism comes in.

Reference: Healthcare costs: A market based view: McKinsey International