Differentiation: How Your Medical Tourism Program Can Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

Existing hospitals, clinics and health resorts are facing a more competitive landscape than ever as more countries and destinations introduce new brands and distribution channels and new ambulatory surgery clinics owned by physicians compete.

But smart lodging hospital and clinic executives are keeping their helath and wellness tourism programs fresh by innovating in such areas as offering new types of surgeries, niche market focus, programs for special segments such as couples seeking fertility services, boomers seeking caregiver respite services abd executives wanting to stay on top of their aging and fitness goals.

In recent months, we’ve witnessed the introduction of more medical tourism programs entering the crowded space of old standby service lines: Orthopedics, cancer, cardiology, bariatrics, cosmetic surgery, transplant surgeries, dental, eye care, and stem cells. How can so many hospitals and clinics believe that they can compete head to head on the same service lines and carve out any significant market share to grow their brand and their medical tourism program?

As a former surgical nurse and hospital executive, when people from medical tourism tell me all about their features, I want to roll my eyes back and say “so what”? “who cares?” What is your “why story”? Sometimes I feel as if I’ve entered a time machine when I get emails from India and Turkey through LinkedIn. It is so formulaic!  First comes the connection request. Then comes the email the next day. In short the email says “I have this to sell – send me patients.”  They send me these emails as if I have patients to send. Don’t they get that we don’t send patients anywhere? We never did!

When we ran our medical tourism network and logistics coordination service for insurers and employers, we did the due diligence and “approved” hospitals and clinics for inclusion in our network.  We never included any hospital on the basis of one of these lame excuses for an email. We went to the hospitals and clinics to see them in operation, look at the culture, the community, assess the language skills of the executives, the nurses, the support staff, and we searched high and low for innovation and imagination. Then, we came back to our office and mystery shopped their responsiveness to pricing requests, additional information, and other service aspects. Most failed miserably, in India, Mexico, Turkey, the Balkans, the story was the same time and time again.

It doesn’t matter how many Tesla your MRI magnet, how many slices your CT Scan can do, or that you just spent millions of dollars on a cardiac catheterization lab – like everybody else did. What matters is how you connect with the market. Those lame LinkedIn emails are not the most original strategy. I get so many that I had my secretary develop a form letter response for me so that in two clicks I can politiely answer them with “how nice – for you; come back to us when you have something interesting to share.”

The leaders of the pack they see things differently from the ones that always follow.

StrategyA crowded medical tourism market has emboldened some countries and their stakeholders to develop new differentiated medical tourism and wellness tourism strategies and cncepts. They are rewarded with increases in average daily revenues (ADRs) and revenue per admission. They’ve taken a few moments to study their target markets and determined what health and wellness tourism consumers want to buy, how they want to buy it, and how they can position themselves at the top of the short list.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of medical tourism hospital executives are either so incompetent about marketing or — uninvolved, to the extent that they allow those lame LinkedIn marketing letters to go out the door to industry experts like me. I shake my heads in disappointment and move on to the next email.  If my staff sent out such poorly constructed messages and allowed the brand of my business to be damaged to this extent, I’d fire them on the spot, no questions asked! And I’d give myself ten demerits for the bad hiring decision.

Do your homework

Health tourism differentiation and branding messages must feature the niche that is attractive to the market. There must be relevance. Authenticity, innovation, and distinction. That’s not my way of saying “Go get a JCI accreditation or some other wall plaque or award.”  That’s Maria Todd saying “do your homework, your market research, your brand development, and then tell me what I want to know about your hospital or clinic; not what you have in terms of equipment and wall plaques.” Unfortunately, the majority of hospital executives and ASC administrators, physicians, dentists and others in medical tourism believe they are doing everything right. Others believe that they will remain niche properties and will never compete significantly with established brands. Some feel that their hospitals and clinics already offer the send messages that differentiate them. ( I ran into this in India quite often, but they admitted that they had not studied providers outside of India and therefore, truly believed that they were at the top of the market in terms of differentiation. Why anyone would not survey the competition outside their enclave and then believe they were at the top of the sector defies all marketing training and logic.

Don’t these hospital executives care how their brand is represented? Don’t they care about the competency of the staff they gave free reign to create marketing and branding messages? Because if they do, they don’t show it!  Why aren’t they clammoring in-house to get the team to create new ways to bring in incremental business through medical tourism and wellness services and boost their bottom line. After all, anything that creates an extra dollar in positive ROI is “break even plus”. It is not necessary to achieve mega millions from medical tourism, just bring in more than you spend to generate the business!

How can hospital executives and administrators and their marketing managers begin to innovate and differentiate where you are located? Share your insights and ideas here. Tell us what you tried that worked and what you tried that fell short of expectations and how you changed your approach.

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