For medical providers being part of the medical tourism market, staying informed of and in sync with the data that is coming in can prove to be very beneficial, as it allows them to improve their offers and tailor it to specific customer groups. This increases the chances of landing more patients, thus increasing revenues.
However, the data that is being published regarding the medical tourism market is mostly highly speculative and based less on facts and more on speculations and predictions of those who carry out the research. This skews the picture and dilutes the basis on which the whole programs of medical providers stand on.
Based on this need, PlacidWay continues to conduct research in the field of understanding consumer buying behaviors in the medical tourism industry. The work is essential, as it allows the providers to base their programs on the real data, taken from real customers, without any speculation.
We have conducted a survey regarding the consumer behavior when engaging in the medical tourism industry. The survey was conducted world-wide, between September and November 2017 and this article sums up the results that we have obtained.
Preferred Treatments Abroad
It is not a secret that some treatments and medical fields enjoy larger success in the global market, simply because the patients are more willing (due to different reasons) to venture abroad for them. Our survey has found that the patients are divided in their treatment needs, and the results are as follows:
- Stem Cell Therapies are the highest on our list, with 28% of the customers surveyed saying that they would most likely go abroad to search for these treatments. This is not surprising, as Stem Cell Therapies are wildly different from one country to another, and are completely impossible to find in some of them.
- 23% said that they would look for a Cosmetic or Plastic Surgery abroad, which is presumably due to the reputation that some countries (like Korea and Thailand) have in this medical field, as opposed to other countries. A large part of this is includes liposuction, breast augmentation as well as the sex reassignment surgery, which is not done everywhere.
- Another 23% have responded with Dentistry, which is not surprising bearing in mind the prices of dental services in the more developed countries, opposed to some other countries which have low dental prices, like Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Croatia, etc.
- Cancer Treatment is also one of the reasons why people travel abroad, with 11% highlighting this as the most likely reason to travel abroad, due to different kinds of treatments being available in different countries.
It is not accidental that these treatments are the most popular ones. Dentistry and cosmetic surgeries are elective procedures which are very expensive in the developed world, while places like Korea (the world’s leader in cosmetic surgery), Thailand, and Mexico offer the finest quality at significantly lower prices.
Some continents are better at attracting cross-border patients. We found that:
- 35% of those surveyed answered with Asia as their preferred destination
- Latin America also got 35% on the survey
- Europe is closely behind, with 34% of those surveyed saying that they would most likely go there
- Places like the US (and North America), Middle East and Eastern Europe have been designated by 18% of those surveyed.
The surveyed customers had the option of choosing more than one region. The results clearly show that there are preferences depending on the region of the customers. A person from the US would much rather just cross the border to Mexico than go all the way to the Eastern Europe for their treatment, even thought the prices would be the same.
Similarly, a person from the UK would much rather go to Europe for their medical trip, than venture to Mexico, or Korea, simply because it is closer and much cheaper to get there.
However, some regions defy this, as shown by the high popularity of Asia. While Asia is far away for most of our customers, their expertise in certain fields and the low costs of their procedures make it highly desirable for our customers.
Reasons for Traveling – The Cost is Still the Most Relevant Factor
Medical tourism has seen its greatest growth when places in less developed countries started offering their medical expertise to international patients at reduced prices, and this has become the main reason why people travel today:
- A whopping 64% of those surveyed stated that they would travel abroad because of the lower costs of treatments.
- Better trained and more experienced specialists are second on the list, with 26% of people choosing that as the main reason for travel.
- Treatment not being available in the home country and access to better technology and modern equipment are tied in the third place, with 24% of the patients stating that this is the most important reason for them to travel abroad for treatment.
This shows us that although most medical providers emphasize the quality of their services and adopt the “We are the best” concept when advertising to foreign patients, the patients are still more drawn to low prices than they are to the expertise. Also, when everyone advertises how they are the best, it quickly gets old and boring for the customers, as it is impossible for everyone to be the best at the same time. That is why people look for proof of quality and experience, and they find it by reviewing the specialists’ training and experience. This opens new routes for advertising, for those who still fail to realize this.
The amount of money they are ready to spend
As established above, the majority of international patients look to travel for treatments in order to save money. If the purpose is to save money, let us see how much they are willing to spend on treatment abroad:
- Half of the customers that participated said that they would like to find a treatment for less than $5,000.
- A quarter said that a price between $5,000 and $10,000 would be acceptable.
- 17% of people stated that they wouldn’t mind spending any amount of money, as long as they are cured
- And only 8% responded that they would be ready to cash out up to $20,000 for a treatment.
Adding to the point made above, the correlation here is simple. As the price of a treatment goes up, the demand for the same treatment goes down, as evidenced by the percentage of those surveyed dropping progressively when the price is higher. Most medical providers think along the lines of “International patients have money, let’s charge them as much as possible to make up for revenues lost on the local front”. However, this is exactly what drives the customers away.
How do patients choose the clinic for treatment?
However, while the goal of the majority of patients is to save money, they still value other things when it comes to making a decision on a single clinic abroad:
- Doctor’s certificates and clinic’s accreditations still play a major role in deciding, as the patients are still looking for quality and security. 40% of the patients ranked doctor’s certificates as the primary factor, while 41% ranked accreditations as the most important factor.
- 24% are most likely to make a decision based on medical packages available, depending on their inclusions and exclusions
- While 12% consider patient testimonials as the primary cause why they would choose a certain clinic.
This shows us that the expertise and specialization of the medical providers is still the most important factor when it comes to selecting a medical provider to carry out the treatment. The problem is, however, that most medical providers fail to visibly display these, either on their website or on their profiles on medical tourism providers’ websites. In our experience, between 60-70% of medical providers are not ready to provide this information even on demand, after repeated customer requests.
Gathering information about the treatment
Patients are aware that you can research anything online nowadays, and they are doing just that. Most of them like to be informed about the treatment they are planning to undergo, and our survey found that:
- 55% of those who answered research the treatment online and read articles about it
- 49% would call a clinic that is specialized in the treatment in question
- Another 32% would call a medical tourism company and inquire there
- While about 23% would consult with their own doctor first.
Using the Internet is a part of our everyday lives, and the patients are no different. Gone are the days when the patients had no clue what was to be done to them. This provides an opportunity for medical providers to prove their expertise. Both the first and the second most popular answer shows that there is a possibility to establish an expertise in the field, either by posting the information online, or by actively responding to patient inquiries. However, the examples of both are pretty scarce and we have found, through experience, that many medical providers still have no idea how to interact with the patients effectively or how to rouse their interest through well-written, informative internet posts.
What does all of this tell us?
Analyzing this data can bring us closer to understanding what it is that the patient wants when traveling abroad for treatment, which is further useful as a way to customize the content of the advertisements and to improve overall advertising by focusing on the things that the patients really care about.
So, the points (or a check-list) to take away from this survey presentation would be:
- Analyzing data is highly important – We (both us at PlacidWay and the medical providers) need to continue surveying the market and extrapolating useful data. It is the only way to charter a growth and keep on growing with the field.
- Expertise is critical – Medical providers should be prepared to deliver the proof of their expertise, as this particular “burden of proof” is on them. It influences the patients’ decisions too much to be neglected as it currently is.
- Response – Communication is the best way to help people feel valued and to keep them interested in the treatment. Failure to communicate (especially using the latest communication technologies) properly is losing leads for the medical providers and is something that requires a lot of work.
- Price establishes demand – Contrary to the popular belief, international patients are not “milking cows”. Just because they come from a more developed country, it shouldn’t be a reason to charge them insanely inflated rates. It might be better to lower the prices, attract more customers, and thrive off the increased revenues.
- Type of treatment and location are closely intertwined with the price – Location and the type of treatment is also very important to our customers. All patients prefer not having to venture far from their country, but they will if they can save more money than going for a treatment nearby.
In the end, if there is a shortage of international patients in your medical center, think about the above points, and see whether there is something that you can change in the way in which you invite and approach potential customers.
On our part, PlacidWay promises to always follow what the customers are demanding of us, to always be at the front of the market research, and to share our findings with our partners so that we all could improve our strategies.