The 2011 Medical Tourism Survey raises concerns over treatment and customer service

Whilst the medical tourism industry continues to sing its own praises and tell itself how great it is…. consumers are telling a different story. The 2011 Medical Tourism Survey being conducted by European Research Specialists on behalf of Treatment Abroad raises some concerns about the quality of treatment and customer service that the industry delivers to patients.

Whilst the medical tourism industry continues to sing its own praises and tell itself how great it is…. consumers are telling a different story. The 2011 Medical Tourism Survey being conducted by European Research Specialists on behalf of Treatment Abroad raises some concerns about the quality of treatment and customer service that the industry delivers to patients.As results of the latest Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011 come in, we’re beginning to get an idea of how patients view the medical tourism experience. So far, we’ve managed to generate 860 responses to the survey from patients who went to more than 60 countries. Each respondent completes a fairly detailed online survey that takes them around 5-10 minutes. The results are being analysed by an external research market researcher. (Find out more about the Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011). The aim is to generate over 1,000 survey completions to provide valuable insight into the medical tourism experience.We’ll be releasing the full results and report in 2012, but I have taken a look at the “story so far” provided by the research. The bad news is that since the previous survey was conducted two years ago, the industry hasn’t got any better at what it does. Initial analysis, suggests that it has got worse. Patient satisfaction levels are down. When asked:

  • “How satisfied are you OVERALL with your experience of going to another country for treatment?”

…only 65% of the patients say that they are “Very Satisfied”, and 20% say they are “Quite Satisfied”.

These results are disappointing; they are well below what you see when you research satisfaction levels for patients visiting private hospitals and clinics in their own countries.For me, the main concern is that 15% of patients were dissatisfied with their experience. According to research, a dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about it. And approximately 13% of your dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their problem. (Source: the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC.)

On average, dissatisfied customers, tend to tell four times as many people of their experience compared to satisfied customers. So, let’s do the Maths…..

100 patients go abroad for treatment in a foreign country….

  • 85 have a good or OK experience. Each one tells another three people about their good experience. 85 x 3 = 255 people hear how great medical tourism is.
  • 15 have a bad experience. Each one tells another twelve people about their bad experience. 15 x 12 = 180 people hear how bad medical tourism is.
    So, overall…..the “reputation” of medical tourism is enhanced…. but am I impressed? No.

A 65% “Very Satisfied” rating for the medical tourism experience just isn’t good enough. If the industry really wants to establish its credibility it has do much better at delivering outstanding treatment quality and customer service for international patients. If it does not fix the problem, it will make little progress and will continue to be a Cinderella industry.

Why are people dissatisfied with the medical tourism experience?

Here are three verbatim comments from dissatisfied patients from the research:

“Complete and utter failure. Just money grabbing attitude. Lots of lies. They risked my life for sake of a few pennies and gave me misleading information.”

UK patient, cosmetic surgery in the Czech Republic

“The clinic I went to made no effort at all for Western patients. Communication was very poor, the patient coordinator was nowhere to be found. Whilst I was in Cyprus, no information was given, no paperwork in evidence that I could see, and absolutely no attempt was made to make me feel important/relaxed/reassured.”

UAE patient, infertility treatment in Cyprus

“I don’t even know where to begin with regard to the incompetence that I endured. Never again! I will now pay whatever it costs to get the best treatment.”

Swedish patient, dental treatment in Hungary

You can be certain that these three patients told lots of people about their experience. Now… I’m sure that there will be lots of hospitals and clinics reading this and saying… “This would never happen in my hospital/clinic.”

The problem is that it does. For far too long, the industry in general has been closing its mind to any possible shortcomings. The press and TV stories about “medical tourism gone wrong” are just scaremongering by self interested domestic healthcare providers… the medical tourism party line.

A negative patient experience…”it can’t be true”

When something goes wrong or a patient isn’t happy, the usual response from providers is to ignore the negative feedback, or deny that anything has gone wrong. A good example of this is the Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews service that we run. We get lots of positive reviews of healthcare providers…. and we get some negative reviews of healthcare providers. If we get a negative review we contact the provider, confirm that the patient is a real patient (and not a competitor writing a fake review), and offer them the opportunity to comment on the review and post a response. The fairly typical response is to demand that the negative review be removed, and claim that the patient has made everything up. The truth is that patients don’t write negative reviews of healthcare providers unless they are unhappy and the experience hasn’t met their expectations. Too few healthcare providers acknowledge negative feedback, learn from where they have gone wrong and improve the service for future patients.

Fixing the problem

There’s a long way to go. The Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2011 will provide some insight into what needs fixing. But it isn’t rocket science. The industry as a whole and individual healthcare providers need to give much more attention to the quality of treatment and service that they are providing and much less to self promotion. No industry can have a hope of long term success if it fails to get its basic product right and the product doesn’t deliver to consumer’s expectations.
So, let’s get the industry focus back on the patient and get more patients telling the story of their outstanding medical travel experience.

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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.