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
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”.
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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