To state the obvious – this has been a very challenging year for organizations serving medical travel patients. Depending on their location and business model, some healthcare providers had to press pause on their medical travel programs and pivot to treating COVID-19 patients, while others have dealt with sporadic patient volume. Fortunately, there are clear signs that the situation is improving in many parts of the world. As we transition to a new normal, healthcare providers have a unique opportunity to build trust and reset or strengthen traveling patients’ views about their brand.
Trends in medical travel
While this pandemic is unprecedented, medical travel has shown itself to be resilient in the past. Medical travel in one form or another has been going on for thousands of years. Over the past 20 years or so, medical travel has grown steadily due to the relative ease of travel, better access to information and increased economic prosperity in many developing nations. Despite this growth, there have been ups and downs at different times and in various regions. The ebb and flow of medical travel, after all, has always been influenced by many different factors including geographic proximity, cultural affinity with the destination, economic climate, domestic policy, political stability (or lack thereof), natural disasters, epidemics and now most recently - a pandemic.
As of this writing there is still uncertainty in some parts of the world; however, with the lifting of travel restrictions in certain regions, pent-up demand for elective or needed treatments and increasing vaccination rates, patients are turning to medical travel for the same reasons they always have: to seek affordable care, higher quality care, quicker access to care and availability of care. But make no mistake, COVID-19 will leave an enduring mark on medical travel, as it will with travel and tourism in general.
Patient expectations have changed
As patients resume travel, evidence suggests they are unlikely to choose organizations and destinations they perceive as unsafe. They are also unlikely to choose or recommend organizations that cannot deliver a safe and seamless patient experience across all touch points of the medical travel care continuum (see GHA’s COVID-19 Guidelines for examples of safe travel during COVID-19). Therefore, to help build patient trust and confidence in your facility, it is now more essential than ever that healthcare providers prioritize the safety, health and wellbeing of their medical travel patients throughout the patient journey and clearly communicate how they are doing so. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through medical travel accreditation and/or certification.
Why is accreditation and certification important?
Accreditation and certification act as a third-party stamp of approval, demonstrating to patients that a particular healthcare provider follows industry norms and best practices. But it’s not just about boosting your reputation. The accreditation process helps streamline operations, improve the quality of care, and build trust with patients and the community. When patients see that your organization is accredited or certified, they know that you have voluntarily undergone the process of meeting rigorous standards.
Global Healthcare Accreditation® (GHA) offers accreditation and certification for hospitals and ambulatory centers that focuses on the unique needs and expectations of medical travelers and helps build patient confidence and trust in your medical travel program. In the following paragraphs we will provide a brief overview and benefits of GHA accreditation and certification for healthcare providers.
First it is important to note that GHA’s international standards and professional norms for medical travel were developed in consultation with leading global experts, including providers, insurers and employers. Additionally, GHA’s standards are accredited by the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua),through its accrediting arm, The International Society for Quality in Health Care External Evaluation Association (IEEA). ISQua is widely recognized as the “accreditor of accreditors” and the reference point for international healthcare accrediting bodies seeking an external validation of their standards.
GHA Accreditation for Medical Travel
GHA Accreditation for Medical Travel is for hospitals and ambulatory centers that want to enhance patient experience and elevate the performance of their medical travel program through the implementation and validation of international best practices as advocated by GHA.
GHA accreditation assists organizations in implementing and standardizing best practices in three main competency areas: Patient Experience, Sustainable Business Practices and Patient-Focused Clinical Processes. During the accreditation process, organizations will prepare their policies and protocols to meet compliance with the GHA standards in areas such as Care Management, Quality Improvement & Patient Safety, Cultural Competency, Communication and Education, Travel & Tourism, and Marketing to name just a few of the standard’s chapters. Key benefits of the program include the opportunity to:
· Enhance the patient experience and safety across the organization’s Medical Travel Care Continuum;
· Validate the quality and performance of your medical travel program in the areas of Patient-focused Clinical Processes, Patient Experience and Sustainable Business best practices;
· Build trust and increase visibility with traveling patients and other international payers
· Join a prestigious network of GHA Accredited facilities around the globe with opportunities for networking and sharing best practices;
· Position the organization for increased leadership in the international healthcare industry;
Because GHA Accreditation is focused specifically on medical travel, it complements existing national and international clinical accreditation programs. While these programs traditionally focus on the clinical aspects of care for the entire organization, GHA conducts a deep review of the medical travel program and entire continuum of care, beginning with selection services and pre-arrival, through to admission, discharge, and aftercare.
Moreover, because GHA focuses on the entire continuum, those business functions within an organization that impact the medical travel program, such as marketing, finance, and IT are included. This ensures that organizations receive solutions that impact not just patient outcomes, but business performance and the organization’s financial bottom line. Additionally, GHA offers guidance within its standards and requires ongoing reporting of monitors (KPI’s) unique to medical travel, ensuring that healthcare providers can accurately measure and track the performance of their medical travel program. The results of the GHA accreditation process places healthcare providers in a better position to attract and effectively serve health tourism or medical travel patients.
Additional details of the accreditation:
· Accreditation term: 3-years
· Eligibility criteria: Hospitals and ambulatory centers (including dental clinics) must already possess a national or international accreditation and a formal medical travel program/international department.
· Preparation period: between 3-5 months
· Length of survey: 3-day accreditation survey for hospitals and 2-day survey for ambulatory centers.
· Modality: The survey can be conducted onsite or remotely.
GHA Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience
GHA Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience is ideally suited for healthcare providers that do not currently possess a national or international clinical accreditation but would like to strengthen and sustain a robust medical travel program and recognize its excellence in compliance with best practices in patient experience and business practices impacting the medical travel patient.
The primary difference between GHA Certification and Accreditation is that the former uses a subset of the GHA Accreditation standards, and it does not include a review of standards related to care management and clinical processes.
Additionally, the standards are organized in the following three areas:
1. Pre-arrival Communication and Education
2. Care & Treatment Experiences
3. Post-treatment & Follow-up
Key benefits of the program include the opportunity to:
· Enhance the patient experience across the organization’s Medical Travel Care Continuum;
· Implement best practices as a foundation for an efficient and productive medical travel program;
· Increase your organization’s visibility to international patients and payers;
· Validate the quality and performance of your medical tourism program in the areas of Patient Experience and Sustainable Business best practices;
· Further solidify commitment to excellence in the management and delivery of medical travel services;
For healthcare providers that have never undergone accreditation, the certification process can serve as an introduction to accreditation preparation and be used as a stepping-stone to achieve a clinical accreditation and GHA accreditation in the future.
Additional details of the certification:
· Certification term: 3-years
· Eligibility criteria: Hospitals and ambulatory centers (including dental clinics) must already possess a formal medical travel program/international department.
· Preparation period: between 2-3 months
· Length of survey: 2-day accreditation survey for hospitals and 1-day survey for ambulatory centers.
· Modality: The survey can be conducted onsite or remotely.
In August of 2020, GHA began offering clients a robust virtual accreditation/certification survey option due to the pandemic. The virtual accreditation/certification process has been designed to facilitate seamless communication, observation, and data sharing capabilities to maximize surveyor-client interactions and ultimately provide organizations with a comparable level of value as would be provided in an onsite survey. Moving forward, GHA will continue to offer both onsite and virtual survey options.
Moving to a new normal
Though the past 16 months have been extremely challenging, healthcare providers around the globe have demonstrated the capacity to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and new patient expectations regarding healthcare delivery (think telehealth). As we move toward a new normal – whatever it may be, expect todays traveling patients to be more discerning than ever when re-examining their healthcare options. Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) sets the standard for organizations who are ready to build patient confidence and trust in their brand through the implementation and validation of best practices that prioritize safety and patient experience.
 Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020
The impact of Accreditation on Quality in Healthcare.