Use of overseas specialized clinics - Individuals will continue leading the way

Jason Hwang, author of "The Innovator's Prescription - How Asia can disrupt global healthcare" makes a number of interesting points that patients looking to overseas travel could heed.

First, he feels that specialist clinics can carve a niche of quality and affordability that general hospitals cannot achieve. Examples of specialist clinics include Shouldice Hospital in Canada, focused on Hernia repairs, and the Avarind Eye Hospital in India, which has fixed prices, guaranteed outcomes, and has become the worlds largest and most productive eye care facility.

While there are a number of generalist hospitals that provide great service, such as Thailand's Bumrungrad, Hwang feels their lack of specialization will hurt them in the long run. For the time being, they can compete based on affordability. But to truly compete in the long run, they will have to show better outcomes as well as lower prices. Competing on outcomes generally requires specialization.

Interesting point here is that many overseas specialist clinics and hospitals do generate better outcomes than generalist hospitals. Unfortunately, it is the generalist hospitals that are more often JCI certified and better at marketing themselves. The certification bodies do not seem to have found a consistent way to work with the smaller specialist clinics, which means the individual consumer will have to do more leg-work identifying and qualifying such clinics. And these higher quality clinics may remain outside the traditional medical insurance system, even though they provide excellent outcomes. And consumer will have to find these specialists themselves, likely through the Internet.

As a result, it is likely to be individuals that continue taking the lead in seeking the highest quality medical care from specialists that are both affordable and outside the traditional systems that medical insurance is willing to cover. And medical service providers will continue to use the Internet to reach and educate these consumers. Even though conference literature from the World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress meeting in June 2008 indicated more than 100 employers and insurance companies are including medical tourism in their programs and are starting to send employees overseas for health care, the take-up by the establishment is very low and slow. Most of the testimonials one can find on Youtube or other web sites are still coming from individuals that were seeking higher quality, affordable, medical care that they could not find within their current medical insurance system. Individual consumers will lead, with employers, insurance companies and national insurance systems following.


What is needed is a network of travel agencies that specialize in medical tourism.

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