NHS Patient Choice - Lessons for medical tourism

In the UK, "patient choice" is one of the driving forces in healthcare. Since April 2008, patient choice has been extended in the UK. Patients can choose which hospital they are treated in....anywhere in the country. Patients can choose the time of their hospital appointment. In some cases, patients can choose the individual consultant they see. The NHS Choices website lists information about all NHS hospitals, such as their MRSA rates, facilities and ratings and reviews by patients which means that patients can make an informed choice.
The NHS Choose and Book web site enables people to make their choices.
In reality, the patient choice initiative has been a bit of a disappointment. One problem is that not enough patients are actually aware that they have a choice. The Report of the National Patient Choice Survey, England - December 2008 has analysed uptake of patient choice so far.
The key findings:
  • The percentage of patients recalling being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment was 46% in December 2008, the same as in September but up from 30% in the first survey (May/June 2006)
  • 50% of patients were aware before they visited their GP that they had a choice of hospitals for their first appointment, up from 48% in September and 29% in the May/June 2006 survey.

The factors influencing choice

  • Hospital cleanliness and low infection rates were given most often (by 74% of patients) as an important factor when choosing a hospital.
  • The other five are quality of care (given by 64% of patients), waiting times (63%), the friendliness of staff (57%), the reputation of the hospital (55%) and location or transport considerations (54%).

So what can medical tourism businesses learn from this?

If UK patients can compare NHS hospitals on MRSA rates, post operative infection rates and outcomes, why can't they do this for overseas hospitals? Or perhaps, why is it difficult if not impossible to find a hospital treating medical tourists that publishs such data or makes it freely available on their web site?

Many people in the UK have the right under EU law to travel abroad for treatment. The EU Directive sets up a framework around this. but the basic right of free movement already exists. So, why aren't people taking advantage of this?

  • They don't know they have the right.
  • They don't "trust" overseas hospitals.
  • They would rather wait for treatment on the NHS in their local area.

Awareness of overseas treatment options can be generated by the providers themselves. One of the best tools to consider is the use of patient stories to create local press coverage and thus raise awareness. See this story in the Scotsman. Let's see more of them!