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Counting them out and counting them back…Why medical tourism agencies need a disaster plan

Helicoptor landing

“Indo-Pakistan border disputes ”

“Terrorists attack Algerian terminal”

“Hurricanes strike the Philippines’

“Israel threatens war against Iran”

“Thousands flee tsunami“

“Volcano stops European air travel “

These are just some of the many natural and political problems that we have experienced over the last three years.

So what has this to do with medical tourism?

Quite simple… if you send people to another country, or are responsible for bringing them from another country to get treatment, then YOU are responsible for getting them back home safely in a crisis.


Not my problem!

Some facilitators and agencies may hold the view that getting patients to and from the destination is not their problem. “If there is a crisis, surely the government and the airline will sort it out?” …Wrong on so many levels.

If your business makes money, or takes money from people, by getting them to travel from their home to another location for treatment, medical check or wellness break, then YOUR BUSINESS is the prime organization responsible for dealing with a crisis.

You may well believe that it is up to the hotel or hospital or airline to do that, but the international law of agency gives you primary responsibility. If your clients get hurt, killed or even just scared, by an event when they were overseas for something you had a hand in organizing, then the buck stops with you.

You need an emergency plan. You should have a written emergency plan so that if a problem arises, you do not have to think up the response on the spot.

You need to think about all the possible things that can go wrong, not just in a local or national emergency, but also for more mundane matters such as;

  • What happens if a customer or companion dies naturally on the way to, during, or after medical treatment?
  • What happens if a customer dies during medical treatment?


What is needed for an emergency plan?

Many books, articles and papers refer to “principles of emergency management,” but there is no agreed-upon definition of what these principles are.

A specialist group has put together eight principles of what emergency management should include:

  • Comprehensive – consider and take into account all hazards, all phases, all stakeholders and all impacts relevant to disasters.
  • Progressive – anticipate future disasters and take preventive and preparatory measures to build disaster-resistant and disaster-resilient systems.
  • Risk-driven – use sound risk management principles (hazard identification, risk analysis, and impact analysis) in assigning priorities and resources.
  • Integrated – ensure unity of effort among all organizations involved.
  • Collaborative – create and sustain broad relationships among individuals and organizations to build consensus and agree communication protocols.
  • Coordinated – synchronize the activities of all relevant stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.
  • Flexible – use creative and innovative approaches in solving disaster challenges.
  • Professional –  use a science and knowledge-based approach; based on education, training, experience, ethical practice, public stewardship and continuous improvement.

You should have in place a method of contacting all customers when travelling or overseas.

You should also agree what you are going to tell them in an emergency, and arrange to have written proof of what you have done.

Testing the plan

Although in practice this may not be easy, just as we should all be used to fire drills to prepare for fires, no plan is of real use unless it can be tested. You can work with suppliers on testing the plan. The plan may be unworkable and need tweaking e.g. you find you cannot get hold of suppliers/partners at weekends or at night, but weekend night-time may be when a problem arises.

You need to have a system where you can put customers and all stakeholders on alert to warn them of a possible problem and what you or they need to do at that stage, if there is a possible problem that is not yet a reality.

Medical tourism is now an international business. If you are in this business you need to act in a professional business-like way, and that includes disaster planning.


The role of national agencies

In the last few years when there have been political, terrorism or weather disasters, the national medical and tourism organizations of those countries have been almost always conspicuous by their absence.

I will not embarrass the country, but one organization was telling everybody 'It is perfectly safe to come to our country, medical tourists are not involved’ at the same time that armed gunmen were running though a city center hospital terrorizing patients - including medical tourists.


In conclusion

You may be a small agency, and feel all this is too much to bother with. But think on this, if you have customers who are killed or injured, and you could have done something to avoid this, it will be your business that suffers.



Profile of the author

Ian Youngman

Ian Youngman is a writer and researcher specialising in insurance and health. He writes regularly for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and on-line services. He also publishes a range of insurance reports and undertakes research for companies. An ACII, with an honours degree in Economics from the University of Liverpool, Ian was a co-founder of The General Insurance Market Research Association. He also has widespread experience within the insurance industry at management level, working for brokers, a bank and an insurance company.  

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Thanks for writing this Ian.

Those facilitators who are located in the USA: You are deemed a Covered Entity when you facilitate a US patient, and as such, the patients expects compliance with HIPAA and HITECH. Each of which requires a disaster recovery plan not just for operations, but also for data.

This main document contains the non-technical activities that need to be completed in support of Disaster Recovery operations. The following sections contain contact numbers, contact personnel, activation and notification procedures, overview of recovery teams, vendor contact information and recovery locations.

The detailed technical recovery procedures for all components are located in the appendix since these recovery plans are modified on a regular basis due to periodic configuration changes of the company's Technology Environment. Furthermore, with continual changes to the hardware, network, and operating systems (OS), technical documents such as the detailed individual DR Plans for this environment will be updated on a regular basis to ensure changes in hardware and operating systems are reflected in the technical DR Procedures.

At Mercury Healthcare International, this costs us more each year than what it would take to fly five people and pay the entrance fee for medical tourism congressses and conferences, but it is a regulatory requirement.

It is also a requirement of our network that the hospitals and clinics have their own plan. Otherwise, we cannot send referrals from U.S. employers because the employers require it, as they are under regulation to adhere as well.

Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO, Mercury Healthcare International

Maria Todd (02/02/2013 03:14:18)