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On 7 October 2019 the city of Lublin was a stage for the International Health Tourism Forum. The meeting was dedicated to discussion panels, presentations and b2b talks in order to share observations of the current trends of medical tourism industry and its market. The Forum gathered many medical tourism experts from abroad, intermediaries, representatives of local public administration, regional medical clusters, international associations in health tourism, medical and wellness services providers from Poland and abroad. The prevalent topics of this year’s edition were the present trends, prospects and boundaries, good practices and the role of high-tech in patient care process. The Forum successfully managed to interest the guests and offer them a chance of a b2b meetings.
Marcin Kęćko – Lublin Municipal Office, Poland, Vladimir Mozetić – Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, Croatia, Tadeusz Buczek – Lubelskie Voivodeship, Poland, Andriy Rikota – Lviv City Council, Ukraine analyzed the specificity of Lublin’s region and the geo-economical implications of its medical infrastructure for the broader foreign market and inbound medical tourism, as well as the ways of facilitating it from the perspective of municipal administration.
The presentation given by Elizabeth Ziemba’s, president and founder of Medical Tourism Training from US, described new ways of approaching medical tourism by international institutions. A splendid case in point was the Malaysian end-to-end model of facilitating the process of undergoing medical procedures abroad by means of including all the services, as well as the flight and accommodation, under one Mastercard transaction purchased with only one click yet encompassing the whole patient’s endeavor. Instead of a typical b2b services such methods outreach to governmental institutions also, as in the case of Ethiopia, where the medical tourism providers decided to take it one step further and with the aid of their government organized a special airline dedicated solely for the inbound transfers of patients. Such an outgoing approach may soon become a very popular trend among the Asian and African medical tourism providers since obviously it gives the Ethiopian health and medical market an advantage over the European competition.
Ever wondered what is accreditation for? This topic was elaborated upon at the 2019 IHTF by Dr Claudia Mika of Temos International Healthcare Accreditation from Germany. Accreditation, a broadly misunderstood term, usually evokes obtaining certificates, reviews and recommendations from third-party institutions from far away, but in fact it stands for controlling, standardizing and refining the patient management processes in companies in order to achieve the highest quality of services by the provider and a high customer care, satisfaction and return rate.
New medical technologies implementation in the near future in Lublin region’s health centres was a topic of discussion among the scientists and doctors from Lublin’s universities, MD, PhD Michał Solecki – general surgery specialist, II Department and Clinic of General, Gastroenterological and Gastrointestinal Surgery, Gastrointestinal Cancer, Medical University of Lublin, MD, PhD Grzegorz Michalczewski – Department of Dental Surgery at the Medical University in Lublin, Prof. of Ophthalmology Robert Rejdak – Head of Ophthalmology Clinic and the Department of Ophthalmology of Medical University of Lublin and MD, Phd Ryszard Mądry – Lublin Voivodship Consultant for Plastic Surgery. Ophthalmology, stem-cell technology and bariatrics were the main focus of the panel, since the region offers medical services within these disciplines of the highest quality, what perhaps is less known abroad.
Consequently, promotion of the medical infrastructure the region of Lublin offers abroad was the dominant topic of the Forum, along with the good practices in health tourism. The panelists were: Tomasz Bieżanek – Lublin Medical Tourism Consortium, Poland, Małgorzata Majewska-Paradowska, co-owner of ALDENT Dentistry and Implantology Centre, Poland, Karina Przybyło-Kisielewska – Bristol Art & Medical SPA, Poland, Dorota Karczewska – ŻAGIEL MED Hospital, Poland. Representatives of Lublin Medical Tourism Consortium and owners of regional hospitals, clinics, and medical spas contributed to the topic their own experiences, again highlighting the impact of good quality services and on clients’ return rate. The peculiar case in point of Wieliczka Salt Mine – a UNESCO World Cultural & Natural Heritage site and one of Poland’s top tourist attractions with surrounding it hotels and resorts – was presented with regard to the lack of its recognisability abroad, despite of the uniqueness of the place.
A practical lesson on how to avoid the most common mistakes and successfully develop an intermediary facilitator business was given by Nureini Mohamed, medical tourism consultant at HYF Medical Center in Dubai, UAE, and Marek Hołówko – the co-founder and CEO of the Eastern European health and beauty tourism intermediary Clinic Hunter. The provided by Nureini precautions were a good point of reference for Marek Hołówko, who could explain his company’s phenomena, i.e. prevailing and booming in spite of the difficult market and competition’s fate. Having dealt with the most common problems on the market – finding educated in medical disciplines staff, facing the unrealistic market expectations produced by media hype, sorting out logistics and achieving high quality of service – Clinic Hunter was a model for explaining good practices and high quality customer care in medical tourism market.
The issue of clinics’ credentials and reliability was also brought up by Arnis Krasovskis from the British Medrefund. Since any clinic can, and in fact does, claim to offer the highest quality medical services performed by educated and experienced staff, it is only natural to ask the clinic what positive contribution does it bring to the table of negotiations – except for the above-mentioned quality of services and staff.
The specificity of US insurance market and thus, the prospects of the possible reach of European medical tourism to the US target market was presented by Irving Stackpole from Stackpole and Associates, USA. The types of insurances present on the US insurance market do not necessarily facilitate providing outbound medical travel, rather impede it due to the prevalent basic-type insurances and their low range of coverage. The healthcare Medicaid and Medicare systems for individuals with low income and the employer-provided insurances covering only the basic medical package constitute the majority of US insurance market, and thus potential medical tourists-to-be for foreign facilitators and service provides from Europe. The lack of a major health insurance provider covering elective medical procedures abroad in the US and the flight prices to Europe do not rule out completely the very rare, yet present, self-funded employer-based plans including medical travel, However, at present these focus on the outbound movement to medical providers located in Costa Rica or Mexico, that is in close proximity solely. Nevertheless, according to the speaker, maximizing the cultural affinity with Polish-American diaspora in the US, targeting niche of the US self-insured businesses, promoting the high quality medical treatments offered in the region and cooperating with experienced and reliable facilitators like Clinic Hunter is the best strategic plan for developing Lublin’s region.
One could as well understand why German patients are so difficult to attract and satisfy owing to Lutz Lungwitz’s informative presentation on the topic of German healthcare and especially on the wellness offers and their attractiveness both, for Germans and foreign customers. The popular selfie trend that currently dominated our culture is said to produce and incentivize the demand on the cosmetic surgery market, because everyone wants to look better on pictures. However, nowadays the German population is focused as much on wellness and the spa, recreational and natural-oriented activities and therapies offered in Germany and abroad. This trend may become a whole new worldwide market niche in the near future, but it requires transparency of services and reliability with regard to promotional materials, photos alongside of course interesting offers for the bored with routine customers.
Olena Melnyk – Expert of the International Association of Physicians in Medical Tourism, Ukraine, Bartosz Ziółek Chinese Market Expert, Amber Global Consulting, Arnis Krasovskis – Medrefund, England, UK, and Nureini Mohamed, Medical Center in Dubai, UAE participated in the panel. They all discussed the pros and cons of their own markets with the potential niches for outbound-oriented cooperation with foreign facilitators and institutions. Specificity of these markets explains why Ukrainians chose only the nearby Polish clinics and not the ones situated deep within Polish territory, and why Chinese are interested solely in Korean cosmetic centres, owing to the fact that Korea has now become somewhat of a worldwide centre for plastic surgeries, whereas Beijing offers mostly Traditional Chinese Therapy packages for foreigners.
The meeting gathered about 100 guests and experts from abroad who discussed the potential of the Lublin region, the quality of customer service, technological innovations in medicine, accreditation, and ways of promoting the region abroad.
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