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The approach to medical tourism certification in Poland

Medical staff and doctor with clipboard

Jolanta Rab-Przybyłowicz from the Polish Association of Medical Tourism shares some observations and opinions on certification for medical tourism and outlines the approach taken by the Polish Association of Medical Tourism.

There is an ongoing discussion about the need for certification in medical tourism. For more than a decade, foreign nationals have been benefiting from medical services and healthcare in Poland. Dental care, dental implants and plastic surgery are the prime reasons that people travel to Poland for treatment. In recent years, more services have been offered to international patients by Polish ophthalmologists, bariatric specialists, orthopaedic surgeons and laser eye clinics.

These services are mostly available in private clinics and medical offices which are thriving due to the entrepreneurial skills of their owners. They are equipped with the latest equipment; they employ highly qualified staff; and they continuously improve their skills through participation in training and courses outside Poland.  ISO quality standards are common.

However, there are many clinics and medical offices run by doctors who are just beginning to learn the art of good management. They are very well known locally but attract very few foreign patients. These clinics have the right equipment, qualified staff and smart offices located in major cities; but they do not have the knowledge of how to combine all these elements in order to increase the flow of medical tourists.

One reason for their failure to attract foreign patients is the fact that these clinics work independently and are detached from the state tourism organisations and local government offices. Some of them create websites in an attempt to attract foreign patients, establish cooperation with facilitators and travel agencies and often regard their customer database as a major asset. Their self-marketing efforts frequently have no strategy and consequence.


The Polish approach

In a country such as Poland where there is no entity (private or government) that provides guidance, training and certification to those interested in providing international medical services, the Polish Association of Medical Tourism provides a solution to their needs. PATM with its team of advisors (doctors, marketing specialists and operators already taking care of foreign nationals in Poland and abroad) has the knowledge and experience necessary to assess and certify the practical aspects of handling foreign patient. PATM considers areas such as:

  • Are the staff aware of cultural and religious diversity (with special attention given to the seemingly trivial problems arising from British, American, and Canadian English language differences). The use of medical jargon by the staff members can sometimes lead to misinformation and misinterpretation adversely affecting patient’s health.
  • Is the clinic/medical office able to provide a constructive and quick response to patient questions? Is there a reliable intermediary, acting on the clinic’s behalf, to handle this?
  • How is medical information communicated to patients? It may depend whether the person providing advice is a doctor. Much greater attention is paid to treatment information provided by a medical professional than by a non-medic. However, there are many questions of a technical and practical nature that do not need to be answered by doctors.
  • Is the clinic/medical office web site well constructed and informative?
  • What is the clinic’s approach to after care?

There are some vital issues in medical tourism that need addressing, but most important is the flow of information between a patient and a clinic, and access to reliable information about the clinic.

Medical tourism certification is an ideal tool for identifying good, reliable and professionally run clinics and services. Certification is a signpost for patients who otherwise might get lost in the jungle of internet advertising and promotion. For several months, PAMT has been promoting some certified medical tourism providers through its web site, Treatment in Poland.


What’s next after certification?

Medical tourism services consist of many complex human interactions. So, customer care has to be personalised taking into consideration age, sex, nationality, religious beliefs, distance from home, the type of surgery and the duration of stay in the medical tourism destination.

The expectations of patients who seek healthcare services such as dental treatment “across the border” in a neighbouring country may be very different from patients deciding to go for orthopaedic surgery in another country and who require follow-up in the form of rehabilitation and rest in a sanatorium on the Baltic coast.

The important factor in refining the quality of a tourism product is the ability to distinguish the difference between “expected product quality” and “experienced product quality” (1)

Expected product quality forms in the mind of a potential buyer and is influenced by many factors such as: personal needs, past experiences, opinions of other buyers, the image of improved beauty after the plastic surgery.

For patients, subjectively and objectively, the quality of medical service depends on the skills of doctors, nurses, medical and support staff (pharmacy, therapists, kitchen, laundry and other services), starting from the process of diagnosis and treatment through to the recovery and improvement after leaving the hospital or clinic.(2)

The quality of the medical tourism product is inextricably linked to the quality of service experienced by a foreign tourist on a single medical or tourist visit in a country. The functional nature of the product in medical tourism is related to the quality of consumer (medical tourist) contacts with the producers/providers of goods and services. It is they who are able to offer a quality product using the appropriate procedures, technology and customer service skills.

Consequently one of the goals of certification and training is to improve the quality of service. Competition among medical service providers will eventually reduce or completely eliminate the gap that results from misunderstandings and lead to greater patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, not everything is so simple and easy to achieve... if customer service training is provided only for a few staff members and not the whole team; if the newly employed staff member remains stuck in their old habits and attitudes towards patients, then it is impossible to offer an outstanding service to foreign nationals.

It is important that the principles of TQM for medical tourism, developed by PATM are adopted and applied by all staff at a clinic or medical office. Our motto is “a good team is a conscious and committed team”.

Comment

Profile of the author: Jolanta Rab-Przybyłowicz, MPhil

Jolanta Rab-Przybyłowicz, Polish Association of Medical Tourism

Jolanta represents the Polish Association of Medical Tourism and is a specialist in medical tourism in Poland and has a Masters Degree in Tourism and Hotel Management. Having graduated from medical school, she spent three years working in hospitals. Her research has involved more than 500 foreign medical tourists and nearly 300 medical operators. As a Destination Manager she has worked in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Israel, and Thailand.

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Constantine I agree with you that excessive medical certification which is not based on concrete achievements, honest work and high level of service and so on, but acquired only through participation in 1 or 2 day training at the price of xxx amount, might diminish its rank. But at the same time it tells you something about the organization which is issuing certificates.

Whether we like it or not certificates are, in a sense, good navigators for medical tourists.

Modern medical tourist is a homo economicus, he/she is expecting to get a good deal for money.
Medical tourists' decisions are mostly based on the type of benefit/service that can be obtained for a price, after travelling to a carefully selected tourist destination, clinic or medical office. They expect medical services at a comparable or higher than back home levels, at a relatively lower price. They are aware of their needs and have high expectation from medical staff. They want to be better informed about the state of their health and have a greater impact on the course of treatment.

Therefore, I wouldn't describe them as being naïve tourists believing in the neon signs: we are the best! we are the leaders! etc. Medical tourists will not blindly subject themselves to a treatment in a clinic that is certified with such exclamation ridden “title”.

I know cases when people ran away from the hospital or the dentist's chair after travelling for a few thousand kilometres because they were not adequately treated by the staff. And even a gold certificate wouldn't help in such cases.

Certification can help tourists to navigate through the Internet jungle in order to find the right place which is prepared to handle their medical needs. However, there is no certification that can guarantee satisfaction.
The most imperative is the good will and commitment of people in the whole chain of service, with each link being equally important.

Do we think globally but act locally? Yes! …. That is why we train, strongly advise and emphasize…Of course we are aware that awarding a certificate is just one side of the coin. It has to be followed by true, meaningful and professional ethics and services.

Congratulations on the idea and the desire to create a platform: healthtourismtransparencyanddisclosure.com
I would love to learn more.

Is it a big challenge? Well, yes if you attempt to deal with the evaluation of the global medical tourism market.

Jolanta Rab-Przybyłowicz (27/01/2013 19:02:09)

Jolanta has written a well composed article focusing on Certification for Medical Tourism - and which also aludes to such issues as TQM and Education / Training.
No one doubts the value of Certification (and even Accreditation for facilities - and Credentialing for Health Professionals) - and Executivce Education and even Vocational Training.
We are aware that a number of "organizations" are more than willing to provide Certification related to Medical Tourism.
And "training" in Medical Tourism / Travel is likewise provided by more than one organization (including healthCare cybernetics - hcc - see: www.healthtourismeducation.com).
The obvious objectives of Certification and Education / Training are to elevate the Provider and Facility to the status of "Top" or "Leading" - or even "Best" - and thus inspire confidence and faith in the consumer who is aiming to make decisions in the face of options and choices.

But today (when it comes to Medica Tourism Services Providers and their Services and Facilities) few take claims such as "Top", "The Best", "The Leading" etc seriously.
Many mistrust or doubt the veracity and impartiality of such claims - even when they are backed by impressive "certificates".
They want to be able to base their decisions on additional criteria and parameters.

One of the criticisms that the Medical Tourism Market levels against the Industry is not the shortage of "certified providers and facilities" but the shortage (in fact, scarcity) of Transparency and Disclosure.
Consumers want to see: what - and how much - a provider "reveals" about himself, his services and his facility.
In response to this, hCc (as a think and do tank) started developing the Health Tourism Transparency and Disclosure Index (in 2011) motivated by its strong belief that the validity and credibility of "Rankings" and "Certifications", as applied to Services Providers, is in many cases, tenuous (if not outright suspect).
The Index aims to contribute towards "quantifying" the Veracity and Credibility of information provided and claims made by:

• Health Services Providers
• Health Services Facilitators
See: www.healthtourismtransparencyanddisclosure.com (will be accessible as of 22 January, 2013).

The "Index" rates and grades rather than ranks.
It filters and short-lists providers - but the ultimate selection and decision is left to the consumer.

So, in addition certification (and education) we may want to also add "provision of transparency and disclosure".

Constantine Constantinides (19/01/2013 05:42:15)