Centralized information on global healthcare packages that travel agents can customize for clients will soon be launched by a new alliance between medical travel guide Patients Beyond Borders and online global physician directory Medeguide.
The alliance, announced last month, initially will provide consumers with robust search tools for global healthcare options and providing hospitals and health-travel third parties with branding and marketing tools. (See Medical Tips & Trends, Travel Market Report, Feb. 9, 2011)
Travel agents, who will be able to use the new search tools for accessing global healthcare packages, can benefit by adding customized travel components to the packages, according to Josef Woodman, editor and publisher of Patients Beyond Borders.
Agents can partner with medical travel facilitators and medical institutions in adding the travel components to the packages, he explained. Woodman will be a featured speaker at the Well-Being and Medical Travel Conference 2012. (See sidebar.)
Packages have consumer appeal
Woodman expects that the packages eventually will become ubiquitous and available through online travel agencies.
Such packages are “quickly becoming a reliable and enticing way to shop for the best medical deals,” Medeguide founder Ruben Toral told Travel Market Report.
The packages are expected to hold strong appeal for consumers who pay a greater portion of their medical expenses themselves, usually for elective or nonessential procedures, Toral said.
Woodman and Toral described medical travel packages and how travel agents can leverage them in a conversation with Travel Market Report.
What do medical travel packages include? Can they be customized? What destinations and facilities are included?
Ruben Toral: Medical travel packages are an all-inclusive way for healthcare consumers to purchase a medical procedure or treatment plan at a set price, typically at a considerable discount.
Many healthcare facilitators and hospitals are now offering treatment packages in such areas as wellness, anti-aging, detox, cosmetic procedures and dentistry, to name a few.
Additionally, these packages can often be combined with airfare and accommodations. Even sightseeing and local attractions can be included for those patients seeking less intrusive procedures.
Packages are easily customizable, although most facilities and facilitators are promoting pre-existing deals. These offers can be found for many of the top destinations and facilities around the world.
How are Patients Beyond Borders and Medeguide collaborating on packages?
Josef Woodman: Medeguide and Patients Beyond Borders are working together to create an online platform that will allow consumers to view, compare and purchase medical travel packages and allow providers to market their packages.
Our goal is to provide an online exchange whereby users can find complete information about preferred destinations, accredited facilities, reputable doctors, and affordable packages, ultimately leading to a mutually beneficial transaction.
Our commitment is to help the growing number of international consumers make safer, smarter and more affordable healthcare choices by enabling them to take advantage of the increasing global options in safe, affordable medical care.
When do you expect to launch your online exchange?
Woodman: It will evolve based on market trends and consumer demand. Healthcare consumers initially can access the international doctor directory, as well as information on destinations and procedures, view doctor profiles, request appointments and read real patient stories on the existing Medeguide and Patients Beyond Borders websites.
Access via mobile and light devices will follow.
Then a separate website is planned that will be somewhat like TripAdvisor.
How do medical travel packages benefit the consumer?
Ruben Toral: We've all, at one time or another, experienced frustration over trying to determine a cost for a medical treatment. Just as with travel packages, medical packages help the healthcare consumer budget a treatment with access to concrete numbers. Thus, consumers who look to combine treatments by purchasing medical travel packages should see a significant financial benefit.
Additionally, patients also save a huge amount of time when most or all of the coordination of their trip is handled through one central agency [a medical travel facilitator], versus having to hammer out details with several different companies, over different time zones and often in multiple languages.
Depending on where the healthcare consumer decides to go, there may also be travel restrictions (such as visas, passports, warnings, etc.), dietary considerations and language barriers – not to mention the need to be able to exchange medical information between doctors at home and abroad before, during and after a procedure.
A medical travel facilitator offering medical travel packages is invaluable in helping the healthcare consumer navigate the many complexities of international travel.
What does this mean for travel agencies interested in serving the medical travel market?
Josef Woodman: Travel agencies will likely see an increase in the number of medical travel packages they book over the next five years. The ability to merge a medical package with a travel package (airline, hotel, ground transportation, etc.) will create even deeper discounts for the money-conscious consumer.
Along with the number of new facilitators and international hospitals already offering these types of services, agents may also find opportunities to partner with providers that are not yet offering a travel component.
We expect to see a greater number of companies offering medical travel packages in the future. This type of product will make it easier for consumers to get the best possible deal and for providers (doctors, facilities and facilitators) to showcase their services.
How will the packages be marketed?
Josef Woodman: We expect packages to be initially embraced by medical travel facilitators, travel agents and companies specializing in domestic or international healthcare travel.
As the volume of package inventory and comparative information increases, we expect to see medical packages increasingly bundled with travel and tour packages and sold online through vendors such as Travelocity, Orbitz and TripAdvisor.
For examples of medical travel packages, visit www.bumrungrad.com/en/packages-promotions and www.placidway.com/packages.php.