One of my favourite quotes about price and value comes from John Ruskin, an English
writer and thinker. It’s a philosophy that many who market medical tourism services
would do well to heed.
“It's unwise to pay
too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a
little money - that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose
everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it
was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little
and getting a lot - it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is
well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have
enough to pay for something better.”
Ruskin’s quote sums up the problem faced by the prospective
medical tourist when researching the options for treatment in another country.
It seems to be all about price. “Come to our clinic, our hospital, our country...
and we can save you thousands of dollars, pounds, euros on what it would cost
for surgery in your own country.”
The clinic/hospital/destination supplements its claims of
lowest cost with the usual highest quality/latest technology /best standards
claims. And that’s where the disconnect occurs. Cheap implies low quality/high
As Ruskin says, “....if you deal with the lowest bidder, it
is well to add something for the risk you run”..... which is why it is never a
sensible choice to be the lowest cost offering in the medical tourism market.
This is the thorny problem faced by destinations such as India where price is
without doubt a major competitive advantage, but the price differential is so
significant that patients will ask themselves: ”Why is it so cheap?”, “How can
it be so cheap?”, “If it is that cheap, there must be something wrong with it?”
“Am I putting myself at risk, if I choose the cheapest provider?”
Comparing medical tourism prices
The other difficulty that the prospective medical tourist
faces is making realistic comparisons of price between their own country and
the destinations that they are considering. This problem arises on two sides of
Firstly, the patient needs to know what they might pay for
the surgery or treatment in their own country. Let’s take a patient needing a
hip replacement...how easy is it for him or her to find out what the price
options are in their own country?
- If the patient lives in the UK, he or she might
expect to pay around $14,000, but this could vary from $11,000 to $20,000
depending on where the hospital is. Pricing information is not easy to find,
even online. (Private hospital
price comparisons can be found on sites such as Private Healthcare UK)
- If the patient lives in the USA, what will they
be charged for a hip replacement? Various online sources quote a price of
around $50,000. But the reality is this could vary significantly or more
depending on where the patient lives and how price competitive a local (or
distant) hospital is.
So what are the options for these patients? Which
destinations are attractive in terms of price? Let’s take India as an example.
Typical online prices quoted for India range from $6,000 to $8,000. So let’s
say....a hip replacement costs $50,000 in the USA, $14,000 in the UK and $7,000
in India. But does it? What gets omitted from most online price comparisons is
the cost of travel and accommodation for the patient (and in many cases for a
companion or relative.... most medical tourists don’t go it alone).
Take a USA patient travelling from Chicago to India.
....$7,000 for the operation, then factor in return economy flights for two
people. Let’s say $4,000 (for a 20 plus hour flight with one stop). The price
now rises to $11,000. Add in $1,500 for accommodation and costs during the
stay. Add in another $250 for the insurances you need to cover the risk (travel
and complications insurance). The price
is now up to $12,750.... still a big saving on the possible price that you
might pay in the USA (but looking much less attractive to the UK patient,
albeit with a reduced flight costs).
If patients can’t compare price, can they compare quality?
In the recent Treatment
Abroad Medical Tourism Survey, we looked at the factors that guided
patients when selecting a clinic or hospital. Here are the top three factors as
rated by 560 UK patients who went abroad for treatment.
Price comes below two “judgements” of quality. Of course,
the difficulty here is how these patients have made a judgement about the
comparative level of quality of different doctors/dentists and
hospitals/clinics. Although patients rate “quality” as the most important
factor in selecting a healthcare provider, the reality is that they can only
make a comparison in terms of perception of quality not actual
The data and information to compare healthcare
quality between different medical tourism providers just isn’t available.
And... if it were... would they understand it
And that’s a much bigger discussion for a later article!
Date published: 4 May 2012
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