As the new year begins, one thought is on everyone’s mind, “When will we get past this pandemic?” While the answer to this question is open to debate, one thing is for certain, this is a new world, and we must learn to adapt to it.
As a healthcare or dental provider serving medical travel or international patients, it is almost certain you have seen diminished patient volume due to travel restrictions, border closings or requirements such as testing and quarantines, or because of patient safety concerns. When travel restrictions start to lift – and they will, patients will begin to seek medical and dental care at destinations and organizations where they feel safe. As an international accrediting body, the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA)Program speaks daily with representatives from hospitals, clinics, facilitators and insurance companies across the globe. The message conveyed to us in most instances is that patients are beginning to travel (where it is allowed) or planning to travel if they feel the travel and treatment process is safe.
How do you build patient confidence and trust in your medical or dental travel program during these challenging times?
According to a recent survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC),consumers are putting their faith in brands they trust and they are likely equating brand trust with cleanliness. In the survey, one of the questions asked respondents to rank what factors were most important to them when planning to book their next flight and hotel (once the social distancing recommendations are lifted). In both instances, brand trust — including confidence in safety and cleanliness, where the most important factors — above factors such as price, loyalty programs, locations(for hotels) and schedules (for airlines).
This is not surprising as it relates to the average traveler and is almost certainly more important for the medical traveler. Patients and companions face infection risks during flights, transiting through airports, meet and greet at the destination, during their hotel stay and, of course, during treatment and discharge. To increase patient trust, medical travel programs must implement protocols to mitigate COVID-19 risks across the medical travel care continuum and communicate these protocols effectively to traveling patients. Examples of protocols that should be communicated to patients in advance of travel include:
• Covid-19pre-screening and testing policies
• Use of potential telemedicine/ telehealth
• Safety protocols established along the entire care continuum
• Workforce safety strategies
• Travel restrictions/quarantine etc.
• Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) use
• Patient Visitor/Companion Guidelines
Consumers will demand evidence of safety protocols
To meet this need, GHA recently issued COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs to assist organizations seeking to mitigate the risk of infection for traveling patients and their companions. The guidelines are unique in that they focus on the entire care continuum, including providing guidance for travel, as well as interactions with the healthcare organization, hotel and ground transportation. Additionally, GHA is also offering a Certification of Conformance against the guidelines that demonstrates to patients ,buyers and other key stakeholders that a medical travel program’s operational protocols, practices and procedures have undergone an external review and reflect international best practices designed to keep traveling patients safe. The Certification is achieved via a virtual process, includes online training on the Guidelines and can be completed in as little as 3-6 weeks.
Over the past several months it has been gratifying to witness hospitals and clinics around the world committed to patient safety and building patient trust in their medical travel programs. Already four facilities have achieved the Certification of Conformance with COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs and more than half-a-dozen more are in process, including facilities in North America, the Middle East and Asia. The passion and focus on patient safety and patient experience is clearly demonstrated in the many protocols that healthcare providers have implemented since the start of the pandemic early this year. For example, one hospital in Asia is using videos to show patient screening protocols on arrival at the facility, as well as demonstrating how UV light robots are being used to disinfect patient rooms and other high-traffic areas. Another hospital, also in Asia, has developed a new checklist and revised agreements for hotels to ensure better infection prevention and control mechanisms are place for medical travel patients. In the Middle East, several governments are offering to cover the medical and accommodation costs if a medical travel patient is infected with COVID-19.
Brand loyalty will likely hinge on safety
What message are you sending medical travel patients and other payers regarding your preparedness to keep them safe? Have you implemented the necessary protocols to build patient confidence and trust? The steps you take now (or don’t take) will likely play an important role in your level of success as medical travel programs begin to open or increase operations.
According to Jennie Blumenthal, US Travel, Transportation& Hospitality Leader, “Brand loyalty will likely hinge on safety above all else, a factor consumers likely will prioritize well into the recovery and beyond.”
 PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020
Source: GHA for medical travel services