7 Attributes for Long Term Sustainable Competitive Advantages in Health Tourism

Disruptive marketing strategies for medical tourism are built around differentiation that provides at least three long term sustainable competitive advantages.

Long term sustainable competitive advantages in medical tourism put a destination (and its premium providers) on the map, gain visibility, claim top of the mind dominance in specialty, and capture premium market share.

Celebrate unique characteristics and add experience to pricing rather than cutting prices to compete.

Small, independent boutique hospitals and clinics spend millions of dollars to plan, equip and commission their health facility to offer a unique, high-touch experience for their patients and stand out from the crowd. But if they don’t remain true to mission, purpose and style when they market on the internet, they risk looking just like the hospitals and clinics with which they compete and are reduced to competing on price.

Medical tourism providers and destination developers must identify their long term sustainable competitive advantages (LTSCAs) to disrupt existing real or perceived market leaders.

Take time out to identify three attributes that are meaningful to your targeted referral sources. Medical tourism referral sources could be medical tourism facilitators, travel agents, tour operators, and friends and families of patients, but it could also be their hometown physician. In fact, the latter is probably the strongest endorsement of your product. Having a network of physicians who trained at your hospital or in your location is an instant, credible referral source.

Another referral source are the consultants (like me) who are called upon because their reputation for critical analysis and domain knowledge. People know I am privileged to be invited to conduct situation analysis and form impressions about individual hospitals, doctors, stakeholders, and destinations at least twice each month. They know I have a background in health administration and a clinical background in surgical nursing.  They call upon me to ask where to go, whom to choose, what they should expect to pay, and for my independent assessment of quality, safety and service. I receive no less than ten inquiries per month without marketing “medical tourism facilitator services on a website or a business card. I give them a short list of potential candidates who meet or exceed their needs and they always follow through to one of them. I rely upon the hospitals or doctors to do all the logistics and communications with the patient, but my involvement officially ends when I make the introductory email or conference call between the provider and the patient or referring physician. I don’t take a cut of the fees exchanged, I don’t arrange the aftercare, don’t’ get involved in payments or contracts, and I don’t get involved in the medical records exchange.

But what is it that helps me to produce the short list in the first place? I can tell you that it is not anything I learn in a “B2B” speed dating encounter! It isn’t anything that can be imparted to me in a solicitation “let’s make a tie up” email.

What enables me to identify their long term sustainable competitive advantages is the expertise in knowing what to look for during those situation analyses, site inspections, and interviews with hospital leadership, nursing directors, international patient departments, and their key opinion leader, superstar physicians. My mind and my database serve to narrow down the best and most relevant attributes to the person asking me for a referral. This is an exercise that should be easily accomplished by a competent Chief Strategy Officer at the hospital or clinic. If they cannot identify their own long term sustainable competitive advantages, then it begs the following questions:

  1. Is there a product?
  2. Do they know their product?
  3. Do they have direct competitors?
  4. Do they know about the long term sustainable competitive advantages of their competitors?
  5. Is there a distinct target market for what they sell?
  6. Do they know that buyer persona and the location or identity of their source market?

If the answer to these is “no” or “maybe” then they need professional external help or training.  The path to disruption of the market to leapfrog to the leader board is to identify three unique attributes that are:

  1. Meaningful to the customer or its agent
  2. Not easily duplicated, and
  3. Sustainable.

Price is never a long term sustainable competitive advantage for medical tourism sellers.

  1. Price can’t be a LTSCA as competitors can easily lower their price.
  2. Location can be a LTSCA.
  3. Individual superstar affiliated physicians can be, but only if the physicians are exclusive to one facility or location. The minute that physician starts performing surgery or consultations in multiple cities or countries or multiple facilities, that window of opportunity to use the physician as a LTSCA shuts and locks.
  4. Pairing with a highly-renowned hotel resort or spa or a unique activity to be enjoyed would be other LTSCAs.
  5. Testimonials from celebrity patients willing to talk about a positive experience with you would be another, if that celebrity is respected and recognized by the referral sources or the potential patients themselves. Again, that LTSCA goes away if they give testimony on more than one supplier.
  6. Unique water, mud or mineral composition at a thermal resort would be another LTSCA.
  7. Highly-specialized technology not found in many locations can also be a LTSCA.
  8. Awards and certifications that are rare and highly-recognized and respected by prospective patients and referral sources can also be a LTSCA. Since there are now more than 400 JCI-accredited hospitals and health centers, and since JCI may not be recognized by the patients, that is an indication that JCI accreditation is not a LTSCA. In fact, since JCI can walk in at any time and find a reason to withdraw the accreditation of a facility, and the fact that it only lasts for a maximum of three years, means that it is certainly NOT a LTSCA!

Once you have identified your long term sustainable competitive advantages, you must use them in all targeted messaging, cultural idioms that are used to creat messages. LTSCAs must be customized by market segment and persona and exemplified through your website. They must also be intertwined in packaging and offers and uultimately inform the tone and personality of branding and positioning. Otherwise, you permit your marketing to commoditize you and to do so ultimately robs you of your profitability.

Need help to identify your LTSCAs? Call on me to help you discover yours.

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