Do awards mean anything in the medical tourism industry?

The plethora of awards, certificates and badges that are now available in the medical tourism sector set me thinking. What are all these awards about, what do they mean, who gets them and are they actually worth anything?

The plethora of awards, certificates and badges that are now available in the medical tourism sector set me thinking. What are all these awards about, what do they mean, who gets them and are they actually worth anything?
I won an award this year…. but not for medical tourism. Alongside running a business, I somehow find the time to fulfil the role of Chairman of our local youth football club, Berkhamsted Raiders CFC. It’s a big club (700 girls and boys, 56 teams) and is a registered not for profit charity. We won the FA Eastern Region Charter Standard Community Club of the Year Award. It puts us in the “Top Ten” youth football clubs in the country. Well done us!
So what’s the relevance to medical tourism? Well, in medical tourism it seems to be a lot easier to pick up a few awards and “standards” than it is in youth football… which is a little strange. To win our FA award, our Club has to meet “charter standards”. These are very detailed and very specific. The standards cover many aspects of the way that we run the club. They require our 56 team managers to achieve external qualifications. They require us to have a Club Welfare Officer and so on. Every year, we are re-assessed against these standards by FA assessors. For the Charter Standard Community Club of the Year Award, we are rated against some of the best run and well managed clubs around by an independent awards Committee.
If you want to win an award or gain a certificate in medical tourism, it’s a little different. It’s a reflection of the fairly immature and chaotic state of this industry.
You probably won’t need to trouble yourself or your organisation with a detailed set of standards about the way you do things or to go under examination by an independent body; if you sound as if you know what you’re talking about or can post a certificate on your wall, it’s only a matter of time until the awards and certifications will come your way.

The awards frenzy

In medical tourism, there is an awards frenzy at the moment. This “let’s invent another award” craze peaked at a congress in the USA the other week. Prior to the congress, 24 medical tourism leadership awards were announced. To my knowledge, none of these 24 were awarded at the event. The conference organisers say that “due to the overwhelming amount of nominations received, we decided to extend the deadline”. I confess that I don’t really get this. If the conference company is inundated with nominations already, why are they inviting more? (I did ask them, but they chose not to reply). Award deadlines usually get extended when you’ve had a dire response and you’re desperate to find someone to get rid of them to!
They did manage to unload a few trophies though. Another 8 awards were made at a membership meeting and luncheon. (… so we now have 32 annual medical tourism awards… this should keep the engravers busy.) I picked up the related PR for a couple of these awards soon after. They appeared to be a bit like giving your gardener an award for…. being a good gardener . This was reflected in a “Justitia Award” which went to a US lawyer. According to the PR, his “achievements have enhanced and brought innovation to the medical tourism and international healthcare industry”. His online profile gives a mention to medical tourism, so I guess that’s a positive. The PR also thanks him for working with the conference organisers. Ah… now I get it.
Another award winner was to a regular speaker at medical tourism conferences, the “showman” of medical tourism who received a “prestigious Leadership Award”. I don’t know where the recipient of this award finds the time to collect awards. A doctor in medicine, an MBA, a Post Graduate Diploma, a Chartered Consultant (CABA), “founder of the world’s biggest community of global healthcare professionals, editor of two health magazines, “undoubtedly…. a leading medical tourism consultant in the world”, “author of Medical Tourism Guide Book”, “a consultancy and global training business”, “he has launched several global innovative initiatives projects” the list is endless. He has also managed to fit in serving as the conference organiser’s “Global Strategic Officer” for some years. Ah… now I get it.
I know the recipient reasonably well. He’s a pleasant, well meaning guy.
I sat through one of his conference presentations in Turkey this week. It was an overview of the Far East medical tourism market. Here’s a few insights from the leadership award winner, if you missed it:

  • “Singapore, Malaysia, Korea – These are in the top because the governments support them. They do very good medical tourism.”
  • “Here is one very important thing in medical tourism. The brand. Singapore did that wonderful thing.”
  • “Thailand a very good web site. A wonderful quality medical services. A very reasonable price. An excellent personalised services. And they make very good government relationships.”

I would expect a “leadership award winner” to do a bit better than this. Some vision, some insight, some inspiration. I was disappointed.

Let’s get certified… now, where shall we start

Back to my youth football club…… we have 56 parent managers who run the teams. All of them have to be certified to allow them to take on the role. That means they have to be CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked. They have to commit their free time to attend external courses to achieve a basic coaching qualification and to gain a safeguarding children and a first aid in sport qualification. They have to pass an exam.
Compare this with the latest raft of “certifications” to hit the medical tourism world. Now… certifying adults who supervise children is important. And it requires quite a commitment from these people to achieve the certification. But in the medical travel world, life is a lot easier. After all, we’re only dealing with the health and safety of patients…

Let’s take a look at a few of the latest certifications to be on the medical tourism sector:

  • You can now become a “Certified Medical Travel Specialist™”. Hand over $1,500 and a US organisation will certify you for two years. The 8 hours of training/classes can be completed either live in person at an event or online. 64 attendees at a recent event are now certified as medical tourism and medical travel specialists. I understand that they got this for “free” as part of their exhibitor package. I guess that some didn’t bother to turn up, and just “took the badge”. But I’m sure the medical travel world is a far more informed and safer place now we have 64 “specialists” out there selling our services.
  • Destinations and hospitals can now achieve “International Patient Services Certification. A destination has to cough up something like a $25,000 flat fee plus $10,000 for each facility that wants to participate.

I honestly, can’t take these certifications seriously. Are hospital businesses taking these seriously? Will patients be safer or better off in a hospital that has “International Patient Services Certification”. Ask yourself this question and be honest about your answer:
What’s the driver? The desire for a better, safer medical travel world… the pursuit of income from training and certification…. the pursuit of more patients by being able to say “I’ve got this badge”.

Hospital and web awards

We also have awards for hospitals appearing on the scene. There are the awards for the “10 World’s Best Hospitals for Medical Tourists™”. I can’t work out from the site who awarded these hospitals Top Ten status or what the criteria were. But hey…. if it’s awarded by something that sounds as impressive as the “Medical Travel Quality Alliance”, it has to be a recommendation that patients can rely on, doesn’t it?
The web is also awash with “site awards”. I’ll take one example to explain how they work and why they are becoming popular. There’s a Medical Travel E-award run by Novasans. It has some pretty stringent criteria (not). In fact, probably 9 out of 10 medical tourism web sites would qualify for the award. So, why do they give it away to web sites? It’s simple SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Give the award to as many web sites as you can, get a link back to your site, and hey presto, you have lots of inbound links…. and your SEO objectives are achieved. Is Novasans trying to up the quality of medical travel web sites…. well, kind of, but is that the real reason?

Last word

So, what’s your view? Have you won an award? Are you certificated? Who should be running certification programmes in medical tourism?

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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.