With the complexity and confusion surrounding travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and vaccination certificates and passports, is now the time to appoint a “COVID-19 guru” for your medical travel business?
Next week, the UK begins to emerge from lockdown and international travel restrictions are being slowly lifted. In Malaysia, a third wave of infection has arrived and a new lockdown has been announced. In India, hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and in Thailand, where less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated, both the infection rate and the death rate are rising.
Across the globe there is a complex picture of infection, recovery, second and third waves, and lockdowns. For those involved in enabling international medical travel including hospitals, clinics, facilitators, and destinations, the next couple of years will be extremely challenging. For the patient wanting to travel for treatment, the complexity of travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, vaccination certificates and passports will prove to be a major, and in some cases, unsurmountable barrier to medical travel.
Do you need a “COVID-19 guru”?
If you’re in charge of an international patient department in a hospital, a clinic serving international patients, a medical travel destination or an agent or facilitator, what are you doing to support the “COVID confused” international patient? Who will take on that task and what will that role require?
Creating a “COVID-19 guru” within your organisation may be the solution. The concierge aspect of your service to international patients has become increasing important and is clearly a source of competitive advantage.
Many hospitals and clinics are implementing protocols and working hard to convince patients that they are “COVID safe”. But that is just part of the battle to win patients. A “COVID safe” environment is now a given in high quality international healthcare facilities, but this aspect must also be key in those ancillary services that support medical travel, such as local transportation and accommodation. These ancillary services may be outside the direct control of the healthcare provider, but that doesn’t mean that they are not important to the international patient. Learning from this pandemic, it is now vital that you take some responsibility for the environment outside of your healthcare facility in which your patients and their relatives and companions will spend their time. Should you be vetting and recommending local accommodation to minimise risk for the patient? Is this a role for your “COVID-19 guru”?
Facilitating medical travel in a pandemic
When it comes to organising treatment, travel and accommodation arrangements for the international patient, the facilitation and concierge role of the healthcare provider has now become even more important. The rules and restrictions on international travel change on a daily basis. Your in-house COVID-19 expert must be completely up to date not only with how these apply to your key source markets, but also how this impacts your potential patients and how you can support these patients to ensure that all aspects of their medical travel experience are worry-free.
Health and safety related to COVID-19 will be front of mind for any international patient. A WTTC report found that 80% of travellers fear potential quarantine as much as contracting the virus and states that “travellers will increasingly turn to authorities they trust for timely and accurate information ahead of and during their travels… In this new era of travel, hygiene will become as important a criterion in the traveller’s decision-making process as price and location, requiring providers to step up.”
This is even more true for international medical travel.
Creating competitive advantage
Creating competitive advantage in medical travel during and after this pandemic will be driven not just by treatment outcomes and cost. Building trust, removing “the fear of being stuck” (due to quarantine), and convincing the patient that you really understand the complexities of travel during COVID-19 will come to the fore.