Is medical tourism making the most of social media?

Most people and organizations in medical and health tourism come from a healthcare or health marketing background.

This gives them an advantage in understanding the medical aspects of the business, but a disadvantage in that the traditional doctor-patient relationship is about the doctor tellings the patient what to do or what needs to be done to them.

Some hospitals and clinics may find it hard as they enter the medical tourism world. They may be moving from a culture where the patient does what he/she is told to one where the patient is a consumer who wants a say in what is done to him/her. They may also be challenged by the influence of the web and social media where customers and potential customers have huge access to information and knowledge (even if 90% of it may be incorrect!)

So the power in medical tourism is with the customer and potential customer, not the agency, marketing group or hospital.

Patients as consumers

Many now understand that the medical tourism consumer is a far different animal from the typical local patient. The latter is limited by habit and local offerings, the former can go anywhere in the world. So there may be a tendency for the medical world and medical tourism to live in a parallel universe.

With my non-medical tourism hat on, I am currently exploring and writing about dark tourism, peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding plus a host of other financial and tourism areas.

There are some things that stand out as common to all these areas. They are all driven by “the crowd”, by people and businesses. They survive and prosper, not just though the involvement of big companies, governments and official bodies but often as an antidote to what governments and corporates are doing.

All these areas are growing very fast and the international aspects can be quite amazing. Businesses are being built up on a national and international basis, by developing partnerships and sharing local knowledge. One UK crowdfunder just raised £1.5 million in 3 days, from small individual investors.

Common to all these fast moving areas are how quickly fakers, chancers and potential fraudsters are exposed by the free exchange of information. The reason this happens is the power of the crowd, and the influence of social media.

While medical tourism tends to talk down to and at customers and potential customers, whether individual or business, all these new sectors involve customers at many levels. On crowdfunding and peer to peer lending, projects succeed if they attract potential investors, lenders and donors, and fail quickly if they do not. So instead of a business deciding what to do and what to offer, the business puts up an idea that is then changed and altered by the reactions of the public. This goes way beyond traditional market research.

What this means is that even the very creation or expansion of a business or project is now out of the sole hands of the creator, and very much in the hands of the public.

Involvement… creating patient advocates

To the uninitiated, a crowdfunding project looks like a business putting up an idea on a website and waiting for people to donate, lend or invest… so no great change. But in reality, what drives the marketing, targeting, shaping and success of a business idea is getting people to be advocates for the idea, not just before the project, but during and afterwards on an ongoing basis.

So you turn people from passive customers to active advocates and even advisors, that help to create, shape and drive the business forward.

This is where medical tourism is out of touch. It still sees people as patients, not customers. It doesn’t do enough to encourage customer feedback.  And when a customer provides negative feedback the tendency is to hide the bad news or even to be openly hostile to customer comments.

The power of the crowd

The rise of social media and how people interested in special areas or companies interact with each other and places/organisations is how marketing is evolving. We will all probably look back and see how naive we were to concentrate on traditional marketing and advertising techniques that are outdated.

For medical tourism to move forward and develop beyond a niche that is increasingly stagnant, it will all be about engaging the customer as part of the enterprise. We have to engage and involve the ‘customer’ and ‘potential customer’ over a long period to make them a ‘customer advocate’ to get others involved.

For example, a hospital or agency does a deal with an employer on domestic of global medical tourism. The normal approach is to leave the promotion to employees up to the employer. But that is not enough. The deal needs employee advocates who will promote the concept. This does not mean paying employees or telling them; it is a much harder job of finding out who the supporters of the deal are, and encouraging them to promote their genuine support to others.

The consumer/employee advocacy approach has critics who argue that negative information can be damaging. But this is looking at complaints and criticism from a 20th century viewpoint. If a deal or a hospital is getting a bad social press, then that is the opportunity to put problems right, to change the offering to what customers actually want.

The answers for medical tourism

I am sure that you would all love a list of the ten best ways to use social media and the crowd to promote your business. But what my research into crowdfunding and other areas has already taught me is that there is no simple solution that can be individually tweaked. This is a very fast moving and changing area, where every day I read of people in it commenting on what they have had to change or have just found out. There is no simple solution, as to how a country, hospital or agency can use this to develop or abandon medical tourism.

But what I do know is that those who ignore the crowd and social media and are not prepared to change radically and quickly in what they do and how they do it will find it harder and harder to prosper or even survive in this business.

So how quickly do things change? A quote from my upcoming report on UK crowdfunding: “By the time you have finished reading this sentence- another new platform or idea will have popped up out of nowhere.”

We have pop-up shops, pop-up restaurants and pop-up festivals; so how about pop-up medical tourism? You will have to wait for my thoughts on that!