The upsurge in medical travel is one of the fastest growing aspects in healthcare. Why? Fundamental change in healthcare delivery and the anxiety that always comes with change.

Out-of-pocket costs to patients are skyrocketing, and reimbursement is moving to value-based payment. Patients are shopping globally for high-quality care at lower costs. And, many providers are having a white-knuckle moment trying to regain revenue lost to cost-conscious buyers.

As usual, these changes breed opportunity. But medical travel is a complex industry. Healthcare providers and businesses wanting to grow a medical travel practice need to know how to prosper in the new global healthcare environment—without getting burnt in the process.

Essential Guidance for Industry Entrants

That was the topic of discussion of a recent meeting I attended. On October 9th members of the Healthcare Technology Network of Greater Washington met at the offices of Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough.

Representatives of two medical travel specialists gave us the low-down in global medical travel trends. Each speaker described their company’s very different approach to medical travel and how it benefits healthcare providers and patients.

BridgeHealth: Finding Healthcare Value Close to Home

Speaker Stephanie McCray represented Denver-based BridgeHealth Medical, which links providers with employers and employees looking for medical travel opportunities.

The BridgeHealth emphasis on U.S. medical travel proves that patients can find high-value services close to home. The company uses a novel approach, which includes:

  • Cutting out the middleman. BridgeHealth works directly with self-funded employers, who pay for employee medical care.
  • Focusing on surgical procedures. The BridgeHealth High-Performance Surgery Network emphasizes engaging U.S. healthcare providers with the highest-quality surgical services at low-cost facilities.

BridgeHealth delivers top-notch services to patients and calms jittery provider nerves with predictable revenue streams. They:

  • Work only with the very best. BridgeHealth refers members only to healthcare systems, providers and procedures that rank in the top 25 percent nationally in favorable outcomes for each surgical specialty.
  • Rely on hard evidence. The company uses CareChex to rate clinical, financial and customer satisfaction measurements of U.S. healthcare to consumers, providers and buyers.
  • Take the risk out of revenue streams. BridgeHealth uses predictable, pre-negotiated rates for specific conditions and procedures. And rates are bundled in an all-in-one, advanced payment process.
  • Avoid service gaps or hidden fees. BridgeHealth employees use a standard, end-to-end care coordination process to provide complete trip planning services. There are no surprises. What you see is what you getWe also heard another approach, from medical travel service providers who look beyond the U.S. for patients seeking high-quality care.

Arlington Healthcare Group: Casting a Net Worldwide

Our second speaker, Scott Pickens of Arlington Healthcare Group, works with companies to set up medical travel programs. Based in Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. AHG provides a long menu of services to a rather different clientele.

A Global View of Excellence and Opportunity

To AHG, the move to value-based care drives global medical travel and the business opportunities that come with it. The company views the U.S. as a medical travel center of excellence and the destination of choice for medical travelers from around the world.

Scott highlighted three make-or-break trends that affect successful entry into the medical travel industry:

More financial risk for providers. Fixed pricing for bundled service packages are becoming fundamental parts of profitable medical travel programs. Accurate pricing enables providers to stay competitive and supports effective steerage strategies. Vigilant attention to revenue streams and costs becomes essential.

Important pricing issues include the scope of care, payment timing, revenue attribution and distribution and proof of care.

  • Measurable value is on the way. Profitable operations are not pie in the sky. AHG expects that effective medical travel programs can improve member companies’: incremental, brand recognition, market share, and margins.
  • Different profiles and priorities. Marketers in provider companies need to be aware that patient profiles and travel priorities can vary a lot. The AHG focus is on U.S. patients and affluent, sometimes picky overseas travelers looking for a wide range of procedures and treatments.

For domestic travelers, high-quality healthcare at lower costs is the #1 reason for traveling outside their local area. Overseas travelers often have a more complicated profile. They pay cash and want quicker treatment or more advanced procedures than they can get at home.

The IT Connection

Another important trend is the role of IT in making medical travel accessible and affordable to U.S. and overseas patients. IT supports medical travel in many ways. You can find more information about the IT role in medical travel here.

We appreciate both presentations, which were lively and full of relevant and timely information. Thanks to our presenters for valuable information and guidance, which will be a big help to current and future participants in the medical travel industry.

Photo credit: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography / Foter / CC BY-ND

 

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Entrepreneur Agha Ahmed is a 15-year veteran of the healthcare IT and medical travel industries. He is currently Managing Partner at GHIMBA, a global healthcare IT organization. In this position, Agha monitors the drivers of the medical travel industry and the benefits that IT provides industry participants. Mr. Ahmed is an expert in the design and delivery of cost-effective, high-performance technology solutions that support rapid growth in U.S. and overseas businesses. His technical and business qualifications include more than 10 years of hands-on experience in data integration and system engineering strategies. Mr. Ahmed holds an MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School.

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