Point of View: The Intersection of Medical Tourism and the Internet of Things (IoT)

By Maria K Todd, MHA PhD

CEO & Founder
Mercury Healthcare International, Inc.


Estimates about the potential of connected devices by the year 2020 range from 26 billion (Gartner) to 75 billion (Morgan Stanley). The Internet of Things (IoT) will give rise to new and disruptive medical tourism industry transformations and business outcomes. That’s a given. But how will this impact and create opportunities to participate for medical tourism investors, business leaders, technologists, physicians, health and hospitality executives, government authorities in developed and developing countries, and other supporting stakeholders?

I’ve published previous blogs and articles on the Internet of Things and Medical Tourism in the past, but it is a topic worth visiting from time to time to bring and develop different perspectives.

Most people thing of medical tourism as a euphemism for surgery abroad, cosmetic treatment getaways to “have a little work done” away from home. But surgery is not the only activity that takes place in the medical tourism sector. Mercury Advisory Group is the largest and longest established consulting firm for medical tourism strategy and business development in the world. With our long-standing global experience in more than 120 countries, we guide medical tourism industry stakeholders and investors through market research and planning and execution of their medical tourism business development and branding strategies. Our clients leverage our guidance in order to maximize the benefit and minimize the risk from their medical tourism investments.

In this article, I’d like to share my experience and perspective on the value, business opportunities, technology challenges and other relevant matters concerning the intersection of medical tourism and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As many of you know, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to global sensor and device connectivity that is anticipated to present myriad opportunities for transformation of medical tourism and hospitality businesses and all the stakeholder industries that combine to make up a medical tourism destination experience. I believe that the IoT will disrupt the status quo and existing health and wellness tourism marketplaces. Medical tourism investors and other stakeholders who are prepared to conduct the necessary research and development must do what they can to the extent possible to capitalize on the first mover opportunity to apply IoT advantages for better positioning and market differentiation in their medical tourism offers. But they need to be clever—and mitigate financial and operational risks while creating barriers to entry by competitors. Understanding how customer value and relevance can be created from IoT, identifying the medical tourism business opportunities, and understanding the challenges and the technologies needed to mitigate them are the keys to success.

Actually, the building blocks are already out there if you know where to look.

The Value of First Mover R&D

As a CEO and an entrepreneur, I get it. No investment in the new “bright shiny object” if I cannot justify the time, money and effort to approve research and development of competency in the Internet of Things. My colleague hospital and hospitality executives, government authorities, and other sector stakeholder leadership likely has the same attitude; If we cannot justify the investment in R&D, infrastructure, and governance required for IoT, we must be able to understand the value and profit potential to the business.

To understand my point of view: I define value across three dimensions—contextual, integrated, and operational.

From the IoT we get data which can serve as the fountain from which other opportunities arise. Data is at the very core of a healthcare or hospitality brand, because it tells us who we are already doing business with, where they came from, their age, gender, socioeconomic status, language, healthcare and disease state cultural attitudes and beliefs, medical needs and health status, education level, medical and wellness literacy, freedom to travel, mode of arrival and ease of visa acquisition and immigration procedures.

For those of you that have not closely followed discussions about the Internet of Things, the enhanced decision-making and automation that arise from the convergence of analytical insights, enabled by connected devices, with people, will account for 10 percent of the world’s data by 2020, of about 44 zettabytes (x1021), if predictions from IDC are close to accurate. That’s a huge number!

What would you do with such a data bonanza available to you? I can think of many things. I believe my point of view has been cultivated from my training, education, opportunities to formulate ideas from rich experiences from so many interesting client projects. This combination of training and experience coupled with my I understanding of how data can be put to good use in healthcare and tourism and where they intersect. I think that those who haven’t had the benefit of this broad array of situations that is the benefit of 34 years of analyzing unique client situations and then formulating strategy recommendations that I can actually implement on a shoestring, they find it difficult to envisage the opportunities as vividly. No worries. Let me show you what I see and see if I can spark your imagination, creativity, and boost your competitive edge a little.

How we can use data and contextual insights to boost unique value propositions in medical tourism.

Contextual insights are the inferences that can be made about a device and its use in the health and wellness tourism environment through analysis of the data. With contextual data, we can start gaining insights and creating value where previously not possible.

If I could have a blank slate upon which to jot down my musings please….

  • Market research into consumer behavior to create regional and age-grouped personas likely to buy medical tourism services.
  • Biometrics to monitor pre-treatment diagnoses and fitness for treatment, co-morbidities and reduce surgical and perioperative risks.
  • Biometrics to automatically monitor post-treatment outcomes, clinical progress, increasing activity levels and tolerances,
  • Biometric monitoring to track changes between annual checkups, cancer staging, medication compliance
  • Permitted (by patient consent) NFC or GPS beacon integration into wearables to monitor whereabouts of the patient in hospitals, clinics, hotels, spas, restaurants, and more, and to integrate personal alarm systems to summon assistance (in bathrooms, gymnasiums, therapy pools, steam and sauna, walking trails, etc.)

  • Using the same wearable devices to monitor patient whereabouts in circuit diagnostics associated with annual checkup diagnostics (RFID is already being used in this way in hospitals)
  • Medication compliance tracking apps to manage polypharmacy
  • Allowing device registration to connect ESN, MEID, GSM, in the IMEI systems to tell one mobile device from another and collect where they went on your website and newsletters before they bought something, and then connecting the transaction to the initial search and visit to prove results and inform about the buying process for that persona group.
  • Digital insurance cards; digital payment (already possible)
  • Recall and reminders and prompting follow up appointments to maximize customer lifetime value
  • Electronic Health Record and Dicom imaging portability, encrypted on the cloud, accessed through a portal app on a mobile device, updated to a central medical record that is standardized across all software platforms. We’ll be able to hook up our cell phone to export the MRI data to be used to create the 3D replacement part. Evaluating the data at this level would enable more accurate quotes in medical tourism.
  • Automatic prescription refills that request authorization and inform the dispensary to prepare the refill for pickup at the local pharmacy or send it to the patient through mail-order, charged to the credit card or third-party payment method on file.
  • All methods of telehealth and telemonitoring with providers. Did you know that a telehealth visit in the USA can yield a physician as much as $21 per minute versus $1-$3 per minute face to face? (For now, anyway!)
  • Imagine that every medical technology device and all the data it produces being harnessed for better, more cohesive continuity of care, preventing duplication and associated costs, cross checking and verifying interpretations by comparing with other pieces of data, and grouping findings to inform about personalized and precision medicine treatment protocols.
  • Patient scheduling and better use of technology, patient care equipment, bed control and even instrumentation in the OR, correlated with uptime performance and unplanned downtime which can lead to domino effect, —negatively impacting customer experiences and future revenue, and time lines for medical tourism patients that must occur according to schedule because they can’t easily come back on another day the same as a local could manage.

When we start considering how individual personal devices and equipment fit in an ecosystem of other connected devices within the business operations, an even larger opportunity for value creation can be possible. When medical tourism stakeholders and value chain partners analyze data from multiple discrete data sources, they find correlations, interdependencies, and patterns that lead to new insights, which is not possible by analyzing data in silos.

Take driving down a busy street in Seoul, Bangkok, Mexico City, Rome or Madrid. If I want to vet a driver’s safety I could request that the on-board diagnostics from a vehicle and a specific driver can help to inform me about driving behavior before adding that driver to our provider network. Just that information alone can be used to determine a safety rating for a driver who will pick up passengers from the airport and take them to medical tourism appointments.

But by adding in information such as the car’s location, the degree of traffic on the road, the weather conditions, and the driver’s schedule for the day and heart rate, as a medical tourism destination coordinator I might infer from the integrated intelligence that a stressed driver with a busy schedule is more likely to have an accident and provide the clinic with information that the patient is running a little late rather than make the next patient and put the late patient at ease.

If the driver is lost on a big hospital campus at a sprawling academic medical center, one could use the information to guide the driver to the best and closest drop off or pick up point which may not always be the front door frequently used by local patients. These turn contextual insights to actionable insights. Data is not useful until it is converted into information that is actionable.

After granting an internship to a student who was studying geographic information systems (GIS) mapping two years ago for a project in Africa, I became fascinated with how this data could be used in branding and marketing. Health and wellness tourism brand managers may want historical dashboards on their web browser, local distribution may want predictive alerts summarizing total supply across their geography, and fleet managers may want real-time status on a geographic information system (GIS) map overlaid with driver GPS locations to move patients across their destination itinerary. This enables managers in hospitals to order supplies, food, laundry and even implants to more align with demand and cut excess inventory and reduce spoilage and pilferage.

The business opportunities with the Internet of Things sets the status quo on a different marching cadence that can transform medical tourism by enabling them to become data-driven for quality, safety, marketing, branding, timing, pricing, and more. This enables them to leverage on the opportunity and create new value for themselves, their investors, their customers, and their destination network trading partners. Startups and 100 year-old facilities alike will find opportunities that they can realize without a lot of cost and a smidgen of creativity.

My greatest excitement and anticipation in medical tourism business development where it intersects with the IoT is for new product development. When I use the word product, the context is that some sellers believe that they (the doctors and dentists) or the excess facility bed capacity are the “product”. They approach medical tourism from an appointment setting perspective.
For them, the Internet of Things may never be of interest to them. They want some facilitator to find patients and pack them into airplanes and send them to fill the appointment books of the surgeons. That has already proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it is the least likely to produce sustainable revenues of any business significance.

The way I used “product” in medical tourism is that sellers should be thinking in terms of a unique destination experience that involves “some” healthcare. That encompasses spa, wellness, checkups, dialysis, surgery, rehab, diagnostics, and more. But it also ties together a high quality destination experience made up of hospitality, food and beverage, traveler safety, cultural and historic attractions, activities, spectator and participative sports and other fun activities that all come together as elements of a story for a patient who will become a brand evangelist to tell at meetings, cocktail parties and at the gym while walking the treadmill or in a spin class. They not only receive a solution to their health concern, they get a vacation of some sort out of the deal.

The product doesn’t drive the price point; the way they do the marketing does. How the product is presented makes all the difference. One can explain the entire trip using video, photographs that are original and authentic, and explains the benefits of everything that has been prepared for them and how much they will likely enjoy it. The other has the same identical package elements, same surgeon, same facility, same price. It uses stock image photography, focuses on JCI accreditation and the technotoys of the facility, and treats the surgeon as a commodity and no different from all the other staff physicians. Which will the patient choose? Why?

By enhancing the experience of both patient and companion traveler through integrations and interfaces of the data and insights from the IoT, each seller of medical tourism and wellness tourism services can construct new products that offer brand differentiation, price differentiation and level of service differentiation on a personalized and relevant offer.

Get in touch

Are you thinking that you could use a little help with some strategies to take advantage of the IoT for your medical tourism business? If what I’ve written here resonates with you and you’d like to chat briefly about your ideas, opportunities and concerns, call or write to me today!  But for now, why not add to the list I started above with ideas of how medical tourism and the Internet of Things would look in your world.


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