Discussing conflicting views on marketing during economic downturn

There are conflicting views on how the global financial crisis is affecting medical tourism. The view expressed by organisations such as the Medical Tourism Association is that the “…with the economy and the credit crisis, more people are waking up and paying attention (to medical tourism).”

The harsh reality may be somewhat different. BusinessWeek reports that “…in some medical tourism hotspots, formerly booming hospitals are seeing empty beds.” The MD of Parkway Hospitals in Singapore, “expects the foreign patient numbers to stabilise after dropping 10 per cent”.
Whether the credit crunch encourages more people to consider travelling abroad for treatment remains to be seen. People are short of cash, unable to borrow and are delaying expenditure on house purchases, cars and other major expenditures. Healthcare is not immune to this. Although in the last global recession, healthcare was less affected, the likelihood is that people who might have considered medical tourism may decide to postpone their expenditure.
Areas likely to be affected most are those “non-urgent”, discretionary treatments such as cosmetic surgery. In countries where medical tourism is influenced by waiting lists, patients may decide to hold out for free treatment in their own country rather than go for the paid for, immediate treatment available elsewhere. In the USA, the story may be different, as the financial crisis puts pressure on health insurers and employers to find ways to cut rising healthcare costs.
The simple answer is that no one knows yet how the financial crisis will affect medical tourism. But it’s best to be prepared.
So, here are our recommendations for marketing in a medical tourism downturn (….follow these and they will also pay off, if there’s an upturn).
And no apologies for giving the services of Treatment Abroad a plug!

1. Target your activities
There are many hospitals, clinics and medical tourism operators out there who don’t have a clearly defined service strategy. What service am I selling, into what markets and to what demographics? Now is the time to think this through, and identify very clearly your market niche.

2. Maximise your return on marketing investment
Measure your return on investment on all marketing activities. And invest in those that deliver results:

  • Invest in the web, because it’s the one area of marketing expenditure where you can measure your return and control your budget easily.
  • Use PR. It’s a low cost and effective way of promoting your services to patients in other countries. (Become a Treatment Abroad client and we’ll give you our free guide to generating PR coverage!)
  • Take advantage of free web promotion. Send your news articles to Treatment Abroad(it’s a Google approved news feed for medical tourism – your news story will get indexed by Google within the hour, if published).

3. Improve your conversion rate
Turn more web enquiries and leads into paying patients and customers. If someone has bothered to complete an enquiry form for your service, then they have probably done the same for some of your competitors. Respond faster, and respond better with an informative, personalised and high quality response. (Become a Treatment Abroad client and we’ll give you our free guide to  enquiry management!)
4. Generate referral business
Past patients are the one of the best sources of future patients. 20% of medical tourists who travel for treatment have been recommended by a friend or relative.

  • Give a “Recommend a friend” discount voucher that your past patients can give to a friend or relative.
  • Generate word of mouth recommendations by encouraging patients to contribute to reviews sites such as Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews.

5. Be brave!
Don’t cut back your marketing budget. In a recession, the strong survive. Use the opportunity to take market share from competitors who are less well equipped, and ill prepared to deal with a downturn.
Don’t cut your prices because you think it will bring you more business. Think about where you can add value to your service offering to give yourself a competitive edge and concentrate on customer service and service quality.
Put the above into practice. Then, whether we see an upturn or a downturn…. you’ll be on the winning side!

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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.