U.S. hospitals: Medical tourism is eating your lunch

3 strategies for healthcare marketers to keep patients state-side

The term “medical tourism” may cause you to think of a precariously sloppy procedure carried out by an under-qualified “doctor” of unknown credentials.

Think again.

Not only is medical tourism a legitimate industry, American insurance companies and employers are actually promoting the practice in growing numbers. In some cases, people are offered all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations like Costa Rica, India, or Thailand in order to have a bariatric surgery, knee replacement, cosmetic surgery or even cardiothoracic procedures completed at a fraction of the cost for the equivalent in the United States. It has become a real option for payers who can save up to 90% on the cost of care, while offering a no-cost solution to the patient.

With healthcare costs in the United States continuing to grow astronomically, savvy healthcare marketers understand they risk losing business from patients who are seeking more economical solutions in foreign countries. After all, an estimated 1.4 million Americans traveled outside of the U.S. for medical care in 2017, a number that has grown ninefold since the early 2000s.

But, what can marketers do about it?

In our recent ebook, 5 Ways to Make Healthcare More Affordable, we outline strategies to ease the financial burden on patients. Additionally, here are three marketing ideas specifically designed to combat the loss of business to medical tourism.

Keep it in-network

As primary care providers play increasingly prominent roles in managing their patient’s health, maintaining effective referral strategies is of the utmost importance.

Prevention and wellness have taken center-stage in healthcare. This includes the screenings, immunizations and well-visits that result in no cost to the patient. Born out of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, this approach to promoting wellness allows doctors and their teams valuable face-time to connect with their patients, gain their trust and build meaningful relationships.

And, while it is procedural, not primary care, that patients are seeking abroad, when a patient knows and trusts his doctor, he also trusts her recommendations on specialty providers, procedures and hospitals.

Focus on the team

ACA, MACRA, ACO… The recent influx of healthcare reforms and associated acronyms have all contributed to an industry-wide concentration on providing team-based care coordination. It’s simply not acceptable anymore for a patient to walk out of a hospital following a procedure without an appropriate plan and resources to support a successful recovery. By emphasizing the power of a coordinated care team, healthcare marketers can draw stark contrast to the one-and-done approach of traveling for a procedure.

In this context, the procedure at your hospital is a facet of a wider effort to keep a patient as healthy as possible. It is much more meaningful than a business transaction.

Be transparent

Healthcare marketers can make it easy for a patient to find the credentials, distinctions and outcomes of doctors and hospitals in their network. Make it clear that the care team and facility share high quality marks and the standard federal distinctions Americans count on as guarantees of competence.

Are those same safeguards in place at a foreign hospital? If so, are they easy to confirm through communication and cultural barriers? This is your home turf. You have the advantage. Use it.

Keeping the relationship in healthcare

Medical tourism is a transactional approach to healthcare. You pay $5,000, you get your procedure. There ends the care agreement.

Marketers understand healthcare is so much more than a series of transactions. It is a relationship. It is an incredibly intimate relationship between a patient and the team of qualified professionals who together are doing everything they can to keep the patient as healthy as possible.

If patients truly believe their home health system is in their corner, they will be much less likely to look for healthcare alternatives thousands of miles away.

To learn more about marketing and pricing strategies, read our new ebook, Mindset Reset: How the cost of healthcare is your biggest brand opportunity, and watch for new blogs on the topic of marketing team’s role in managing healthcare costs.