Designing the Patient Experience for Medical Travelers

March 14, 2018

Walt Disney once said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” [1]

This is sage advice for any business but it is especially important for healthcare providers who are tasked daily with caring for people who are often at their most vulnerable due to illness or serious medical conditions. Most healthcare providers would like to provide their customers with the best experience possible. However, in some instances they may have not taken the time to understand the unique needs and expectations of certain patient populations. Traveling patients are particularly vulnerable due to the challenges they may face seeking care in a faraway region or country.

Healthcare providers can mitigate the hardships medical travelers face by designing the patient experience so it aligns with their unique needs and expectations. When doing so, however, it is important to look at the entire Medical Travel Care Continuum from the patient’s perspective and identify the “pain points” or barriers that hinder a positive patient experience and eliminate these.

Let us take a look at the medical travel care continuum below and highlight some potential pain points for medical travelers.

  • Service and destination selection
    (Pain points):
  • How do I ensure this healthcare provider (perhaps among many others) is the right one for my specific needs?
  • Am I comfortable with the physician or medical team?
  • How much will my treatment cost?
  • Am I comfortable with the destination?
  • Information sharing (usually occurs during and after “Service and destination selection”)
    (Pain points):
  • Do I have timely access to the information I need?
  • Can I understand what the healthcare provider is communicating to me and do they understand me?
  • Does the destination physician listen to me and value my concerns and opinions about the proposed treatment plan?
  • How is the privacy of my health information safeguarded?
  • Arrival & Accommodation
    (Pain points):
  • What if I miss my hotel pick-up?
  • Does the hotel accommodate my unique needs as a recovering patient?
  • Will I get charged extra if my companion needs to use the hospital’s transportation to get back and forth between the hotel and hospital?
  • Will my companion get board at the hotel?
  • Admission, Treatment & Discharge
    (Pain points):
  • Who will meet me at the hospital?
  • This hospital is huge and I don’t understand the signage. How do I find my way to admission?
  • Will the medical and nursing staff understand my language?
  • Will my religious needs be met?
  • Who will keep my companion informed while I am undergoing surgery or treatment?
  • What if I have a medical complication, who will pay for it?
  • I don’t understand what I am supposed to do with these medications at the hotel
  • Accommodation, Follow-up & Departure
    (Pain points):
  • I cannot get around the room in this wheelchair.
  • What if I have a medical emergency?
  • What about my special diet?
  • When do I have physical therapy?
  • I don’t think I will be able to sit in a middle seat for the entire flight home.
  • What if I have a complication when I return home, who will care for me?

These are just a few sample pain points. You can easily come up with many more if you take the time to talk to traveling patients and elicit feedback through surveys and comment/complaint boxes. Now take a closer look at each of the pain points in the “Service and Destination Selection” stage to see how these can be mitigated.

  • How do I ensure this healthcare provider (perhaps among many others) is the right one for my specific needs?
  • Do you include physician CV’s or profiles on your website or are they provided to patients on request?
  • Do you provide potential patients with detailed information in their language about the various treatments you offer?
  • Am I comfortable with the physician or medical team?
  • Do you arrange a conference call between the physician and the patient? Does the physician speak the patient’s language? If not, are there interpreters available?
  • Do you physicians respond in a timely manner to patient inquiries?
  • How much will my treatment cost?
  • Do you provide patients with a price estimate or package price prior to travel?
  • Are you transparent about what’s included and not included in the price?
  • Are you clear about who is responsible for extra expenses?
  • Am I comfortable with the destination?
  • Do you alert patients about health or legal requirements for travel to the destination (such as vaccines or visas)?
  • Do you provide patients with information about lodging, transportation and leisure activities in the destination region or country?

As you do this exercise, keep in mind that the specifics of your Medical Travel Care Continuum can vary depending on different patient populations or factors such as patient referral source, treatment type and patient point of entry. For example, if your patients are being referred by an embassy, insurance company or employer, “Service and Destination Selection” may be influenced more by the payer than the patient (who may trust the former’s experience and relationship with the provider), which would likely influence the patient pain points (you may not need to convince the patient you are a great option). In the same way, a tourist who gets injured and comes through the ER would have a different care continuum from the patient who has pre-planned his or her surgery months in advance.

Finally, go through each stage of your traveling patients’ Medical Travel Care Continuum, as described earlier, to identify pain points and the policies, protocols and/or services you will need to implement to neutralize these. As you do, you will find you are designing a patient experience that is aligned with the needs of your traveling patient populations.

*Medical travel is also commonly known as medical tourism or health tourism.