Strategies to Unlock Your Medical Travel Potential in the New Normal

**Published originally in the Medical Tourism Magazine**

Medical travel has been one of the worst-hit industries by the coronavirus pandemic; with international travel borders shut down for much of 2020, hospitals re-organized, and businesses closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, booking medical trips overseas to some destinations was non-existent for the first time. However, with the development of new vaccines and treatments for the infection, things are slowly returning to normal — but to a new normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the game for medical tourism. Your medical tourism program has to adapt to the new metrics that define a successful medical travel program. This disruption stems from the shift in consumer behavior. Essentially, the rigors of the pandemic have left international patients re-evaluating their needs and modifying their travel plans such that medical travel destinations that do not reposition themselves to meet these needs may be left behind.

These strategies will help you revive and rebrand your medical travel for the post-COVID-19 era.

Prioritize Safety

Safety is the new watchword for most international patients. They’ve watched loved ones die of the infection or heard stories of people losing their spouses, children, or friends to COVID-19, and they want to do all that’s possible to keep the infection away from them. And they certainly don’t want to contract the infection while seeking medical care far away from home.

Therefore, one of the most important measures to drive inbound medical travel to your destination is embedding safety practices in your travel program. How concerned are you about the patient’s safety concerns? What concrete strategies do you have in place to mitigate COVID-19 transmission in your destination? Since COVID-19 might be around for a long time, this would be a strong determinant for the success of your medical travel program for years to come.

Patients now research harder about prospective medical travel providers before scheduling an appointment. Although they are ready to book the next flight to get their pent-up medical and surgical demands met, they’re doing that with extra caution. They want to see clear policies that ensure COVID-19 mitigation throughout the continuum of care, and not just within the hospital building.

Global Healthcare Accreditation recently launched a package to demonstrate this to prospective health buyers and payers. GHA offers a Certification of Conformance with GHA COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs, which demonstrates to your international patients, potential clients, insurers, and other key stakeholders that you prioritize their safety and health across the patient journey. The Certification demonstrates to stakeholders that your program’s operational protocols, practices, and procedures have undergone an external review, and reflect international best practices designed to keep traveling patients safe as operations resume during or post COVID-19.

The certification is not limited to safety policies during hospital treatment, but on the entire medical travel continuum, including pre-arrival, travel, hotel accommodations, discharge, and departure. This boosts trust and confidence with health buyers and insurers seeking healthcare procedures at international destinations.

The certification also educates and trains medical travel program staff on work protocols, processes, and systems needed to facilitate patient safety and mitigate COVID-19 transmission throughout the continuum of care. Further, the guidelines help medical travel programs to effectively communicate these protocols with prospective patients to facilitate transparency and build patient confidence.

Embrace Digitization

To drive medical travel recovery and rebrand your program, investments in digitalized healthcare are essential. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, most hospitals shut down scheduled and elective procedures and diagnostics to shunt resources to intensive care units and COVID-19 wards. However, telemedicine became a viable platform for healthcare providers and patients to interface with during those times. It became invaluable also as a tool to ramp up COVID-19 testing and treatment for patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

While teleconsultation models may not drive medical travel entirely, they offer a useful platform for healthcare providers to conduct pre-travel examinations, diagnoses, and reviews of medical records, enhancing the patient experience. It also provides an efficient model for patient screening, second opinion diagnosis, and follow-up care for international patients. Large medical institutions and centers of excellence are already beginning to infuse telemedicine tools to expand their visibility and connect with more patients across the world.

These platforms, therefore, ease the patient care journey, ensuring that healthcare providers and patients maintain easy access to information about patient care, coordinate prompt follow-up, and detect post-treatment complications early.

Digitizing your medical travel program also involves enhancing your digital presence. Develop strong digital marketing strategies, including social media marketing, content marketing, email marketing, and search engine marketing to expand your brand and visibility. These sophisticated advertising strategies coupled with software solutions capable of managing medical tourism processes ease communication and access to information about your program.

Get Accredited

To rebrand your medical travel program in the post-COVID-19 period, you need to get a stamp of quality and excellence on what you offer. Accreditation has been a key driver of medical travel before the pandemic but has been reinforced by the pandemic. Part of the shift in consumer behavior induced by the pandemic means patients are now more health-conscious and want to be sure your program truly offers what it says it offers.

Accreditation provides the needed third-party appraisal and rating for your medical travel program, evaluating the whole continuum of patient care from pre-departure arrangements and interactions to discharge. Accreditation demonstrates to prospective health buyers, payers, and even investors that your standards of practice and patient care align with industry norms and global best practices.

Further, accreditation sets the minimal standards of operations for your medical travel initiative; with annual evaluation and assessments, accreditation ensures medical travel providers are assessed against up-to-date quality metrics and standard indicators. This, therefore, illustrates to stakeholders a commitment to excellence and top-notch care.

In 2016, the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) Program was established as the first and only independent accrediting body focused on the medical travel patient and enhancing the Medical Travel Care Continuum (all touchpoints including pre-and post-treatment). GHA accreditation helps healthcare providers improve their competitiveness and visibility by enhancing the patient experience, improving business performance, and connecting providers with buyers of healthcare services.

Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) offers accreditation for hospitals and ambulatory centers that meet the healthcare needs of international patients. GHA evaluates your medical travel program against international standards and professional benchmarks designed in consultation with leading global experts, including medical providers and insurers. GHA accreditation focuses on three main competencies: patient experience, sustainable business practices, and patient-focused clinical processes, helping your medical travel program implement strategies in these areas.

GHA accreditation also gives you access to a network of other GHA-accredited facilities globally to open up opportunities for collaboration and sharing best practices. This is essential as it expands your network and enhances your brand visibility.

Final Thoughts

The coronavirus pandemic has induced a shift in healthcare needs that will disrupt the medical tourism ecosystem. As travel reopens fully across the world, medical travel businesses have to reposition themselves to align with the demands of the “new normal”. Prioritizing patient safety, digitalizing healthcare, and maintaining excellent and quality healthcare offerings will unlock your medical travel potential in the post-COVID-19 era.