If the medical travel industry is to flourish, it
needs to understand and take precautions against patients who will never be
satisfied with their treatment
To state the obvious, the medical-travel industry is a niche
industry that gets far more attention and press than there are patients
actually travelling. A lot of patients who travel electively or non-urgently
are coming from places such as the UK,
US or Canada.
What is interesting about these locations is that they all have good
healthcare, yet these patients are still travelling abroad. And they are doing
so for different reasons. In the UK
healthcare is not prohibitively expensive, but there are long waits. In the US it is
expensive. Both situations lead to medical travel. But who are these people?
Are wealthy people going abroad? Only in a few cases where they believe they
can get better treatment there. For the most part, the wealthy get treated at
home, because they can afford it and it is more convenient. So the majority of
medical travellers will be those with the means to pay, but it is a stretch.
Is it any wonder we worry about liability when we are
welcoming patients who are already unhappy with their current medical system?
They are dissastisified because with regards to treatment in their own country,
either they can’t get in the queue, the queue is too long or they don’t like the
doctor they meet at the end of the queue and they don’t want to start queuing
again. Then there are those who are priced out of the market, or perhaps they
want something the home country won’t offer on grounds of cost (for example, a
person is offered a steel knee replacement but they want titanium, and the
country they live in won’t pay for it).
These patients have very high expectations. They have done
their research on the internet and now they have invested their own hard-earned
currency, as well as a lot of time and emotion, into the process. Yet they have
already set the bar unrealistically high, perhaps encouraged by their
medical-travel agent, whoever that might be. And even if the operation goes
well, who’s to say they will be satisfied. Let’s look at two possible
No 1: a 60-year-old lady in Canada has a successful operation
abroad. Six months later she is back hiking in the Canadian mountains, the knee
is still painful, but she is grateful and willing to have her testimony posted
on your website.
No 2: a 35-year old woman from the US goes abroad
for a cosmetic procedure. Again, it is successful, yet she decides to sue the
hospital. The reason for her unhappiness? Despite the success of the procedure,
her husband will not come back to her.
Extreme examples, obviously, but if the medical-travel
industry is to succeed, it needs to have arrangements in place with a network
of doctors around the world. These physicians will see a patient before they
ever get on the plane. They will fill out a standard form on the patient, get
some routine blood tests, and create a dossier on the patient. The purpose of
this would be twofold: on the one hand, it would ensure that the patient is
approved physically for travel, and that the procedure is an appropriate one;
but it would also ensure that the patient is mentally in the right place for
that procedure. In other words, part of the check-up should be to establish a
psychological profile of the patient.
Not only will this help eliminate inappropriate patients, it
will aid the facility at the other end to impose some kind of parameters on the
treatment: it will have a start date, and when the procedure has been completed
and the person returns to their home country, they could be seen by one of
these doctors who could impose an end date. This declaration by the physician
of a conclusion to the medical episode would mean that any other follow-up
visits to the doctor or even to the facility abroad would be a separate matter.
Of course, this would not necessarily be effective with regard to liability.
But at least it would help with billing.