Zahid Hamid from the
UK facilitator, Euromedical Tours, puts forward his view on the need for
regulation of medical tourism facilitators and agencies in the growing medical
tourism market. Do we need regulation... and who should be the regulator?
“Would you like to be regulated as a facilitator, Zahid?” was
the question put to me as I sat in the breakfast Q&A session at the European
Medical Travel Congress 2012 in Berlin. Here’s
my view for the benefit of a wider audience.
Let us make the distinction between the two types of
facilitators that sit between the patient and the service provider; those facilitators
who reside in the destination country, and; those who are based in the country
of origin of the patients. There can be little doubt that the former are
provider-centric and the latter patient-centric. This distinction comes by way
of the proximity of the facilitator to provider or patient. To whom they owe
their allegiance determines the attitudes that they bring to the patients’
journey, the services provided and the value added to the patient journey and
Coming back to the question put to me, let me ask a
counter-question; how many facilitators have adopted the Treatment
Abroad Code of Practice? It is very
obvious that the adoption of a code of practice brings credibility to the
activities of the compliant companies and helps them raise their heads above
The answer is instructive and reveals the true dimensions
and nature of medical travel model in existence. There are a dozen facilitators
who are currently compliant and all have a singular focus; to win the custom of
UK patients. There is a 50:50 split between the compliant companies being
clinics or facilitators. And, only one of the twelve is a facilitator and is
based in the UK. But, compliance stops short of regulation. Compliance is about
talking the talk and regulation is about having to walk it while you are
Why do we need regulation?
So when asked the question, if I would like to be regulated
as a facilitator, my answer was unequivocally in the affirmative. To borrow from Shakespeare, ‘some
facilitators have the onus thrust upon them’. Sitting in the UK, it is
(a) make credible the pre-treatment, diagnostic
render complete visibility to pricing
translate post-operative care into reality with support
in the country of origin
provide for a return to the destination for
revision or corrective treatment and,
have a plausible and tangible answer to the
‘what-if’ scenarios that can and do arise.
Facilitators based in the destination countries, just like
hospitals and clinics, do not wish to reach out to the patients in the country
of origin, but bury their heads in the sand to wish the problems away, when
they arise. The problem is that they can get away with it! That is why
regulation must be hastened to oversee the healthcare travel model. In this state of healthcare tourism that
exists around us today, one is reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the
fact that ‘some facilitators are more equal than others’.
This is not an exercise in self-gratification but simply an
illustration that the healthcare travel industry is hamstrung by the lack of
outreach in the diagnostic and post-operative care dimensions, which accompany,
of necessity, local presence and proximity to the patient. The facilitator in a
destination country is no more than a glorified concierge; the middle man that
allows the service provider to distance itself from the patient, when they need
it the most. In my response at the Q&A session, I had remarked about the
need to breed trust between the players, the processes and the patients that
they serve. This element of trust will only come with that outreach, to begin
Who should regulate facilitators?
The next key point is... who should regulate the
facilitators? There is an analogy with every other association of tradespeople
that espouses a code of conduct to serve the industry and further its members’ interests. In my view, the US based Medical Tourism Association
is not such a body and its certification programme is the exception that proves
the rule. For the record, the MTA Certification
program, launched in Nov 2008, has a total of four certified facilitators; two
based in Canada and another two in the US.
If outreach and the accompanying trust that it must harbour,
do not supplement the healthcare travel model to render it complete, medical
tourism will remain a cottage industry. One heard of the European Medical
Travel Alliance in Budapest in 2009 but little progress was made. The European
Cross Border Healthcare Organisation (ECHO) met for the first and only time in
Barcelona at the 3rd EMTC in 2011, however, the name did not echo in
Berlin at the Fourth. Will it surface in Monaco at the IMTEC 2013? Only time
will tell. Time is one commodity we have plenty of in the world of Medical
Tourism – it’s not going anywhere without us!
Zahid Hamid is a Management Consultant with over thirty
years of experience in the public and private sectors. He managed two software
houses listed on the London Stock Exchange before committing himself to the healthcare
sector in 2004. He presently heads an outbound facilitation service to Europe
and South Asia - Euromedical Tours - and an inbound and intra bound service
to the UK - Right Choice UK. He is a regular speaker on issues of topical
import at healthcare travel industry events.
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