The Primary Physician: Ally for Medical Tourism?
In spite of the great buzz from inside the industry, medical tourism is undeniably still in its infancy.
Even in a very wealthy country like the United States, not more than 500,000 Americans out of 300 Million engaged specific treatment abroad in 2010. In the nation most aggressively championing globalization, the citizenry is generally unaware of its medical treatment options abroad. This irony owes to several factors and is obviously not limited to the United States. But clearly, if medical tourism is to realize its enormous potential to bring benefit to a broad spectrum of patients worldwide, patients must become more literate in the concept and prepared to leverage the options to their advantage.
International medical providers and entrepreneurs can talk up the great cost advantages, other benefits, streamlined procedures, build great information linkages, portals etc. but there’s a danger that they will be talking primarily amongst themselves. If that remains the case, for the vast majority of patients the practicality of international medical treatment will appear too remote, even exotic – a privilege only for the rich and famous.
This is especially problematic for patients who have never traveled or lived abroad. Even in the US, this is a significant factor because unlike Europeans most Americans do not have passports. With E.U. citizenship, a French, Italian or British national is far more likely to have some connections in nearby countries and can tangibly visualize the medical treatment options.
How can the basic public perception be transformed?
The crucial “entry point” for patients in all Health Care systems is the Primary Physician. Only later on it is the specialist, who may have far less incentive to recommend treatment outside one’s country because there’s often a conflict of financial interest.
Can Primary Physicians – the ones who know their patients the best, with trust and family relationships that have been built over many years, somehow be incentivized to become “Primary Educators” on Medical Tourism?
Obviously when someone needs conventional treatment or check-up in the course of 20 other appointments on a given day, there is no practical time for a cram course on medical tourism. But aren’t there ways – through Office brochures, Postings, Newsletters, Advisories etc. for Primary Physicians to provide at least an overview of for patients that may benefit at some time in their lives? It might lead to questions in some cases, which a caring provider could address generally and provide referrals for more information.
If this were done, Medical Tourism would very quickly become part of the patient’s treatment “subconscious”, from an early age. Within a few short years, it becomes part of the national vocabulary, like I-phone, Blackberry, Plasma TV, or HMO. If this seems remote, think of how “Hard Drive” and “Gigabyte” went from geek esoterica to instant understanding seemingly overnight when the PC was introduced. And medical tourism is a lot easier to understand.