How health IT can deliver on the promise of Medical Travel

Health IT for large systems, hospitals, and traditional physician practices is well underway. Enough so that innovators/startups, are starting to see consolidation and heavy competition. As I look around at new areas for health IT implementations, I think areas in medical travel or medical tourism (“MT”) appear to be great opportunities. A potent mix of the Internet, cloud computing and globalized medicine — when combined — should drive medical travel. I’ll be speaking at the Medical Travel and Global Healthcare Business Summit in Tampa Florida. That’s where nationally known healthcare care providers, hospital executives, consultants and medical travel facilitators will meet June 14th through 17th. Topics at the summit will include telemedicine, m-health solutions and the roles they play in supporting medical travel. I asked a friend who knows a good deal about MT, Agha Ahmed, to help explain what medical travel/tourism is all about and what entrepreneurs should know about how to take advantage of the upcoming opportunities. Agha is a 15- year veteran of the medical IT industry and is currently serving as a Managing Partner at GHIMBA, a Global Healthcare IT organization based in the Washington DC area. In this post, Agha reviews drivers of the medical travel industry and the benefits that IT provides industry participants. Here’s what Agha said:

What Drives Demand for Medical Travel?

When ever-growing medical insurance premiums, deductibles and prior condition clauses get you down, what do you do? If you’re like 1.3 million Americans, you hit the road to find affordable care overseas. Medical travel offers travelers the promise of safe, modern medicine, a pleasant trip and affordable services. Although it’s still early days, IT innovations and affordable travel help keep that promise. Medical travelers looking for first-rate care have lots of options on five continents, everywhere but Australia and Antarctica. (You can find more details and a great infographic here.)

A Mix of Travel, Healthcare and Technology

Medical travel merges aspects of the hospitality and healthcare industries. Healthcare providers, hospitals, medical travel facilitators, hotel and restaurant operators and airlines all jostle for a piece of what will likely be a very lucrative pie.

What drives the demand for offshore healthcare?

  • Worldwide higher education and availability of medtech. Globalized medicine trains skilled practitioners and enables caregivers to deliver first-rate care.
  • Growing use and sophistication of telemedicine and m-health solutions. M-health is the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices. Usually, these solutions improve access to medical services over distances. But in medical travel, they provide easy access to medical information, which might be impractical to ship and examine in physical form.
  • High-cost medical insurance. “Affordable” medical insurance policies with high deductibles drive the global search for the best value in medical care and cosmetic treatment, wherever it might be.
  • Affordable, high-quality services and amenities. The total cost (including airfare and 5-star hotel) of a trip can be less than the annual deductible of an American health insurance policy. Wide availability of travel, hotel and medical travel support services can make trips more pleasant and successful.

How can IT innovations contribute to growth of the MT industry?

Here’s how I think modern IT devices and methods add value to medical travel?

  • More potential revenue for facilitators. IT innovations automate manual or low-tech planning and data management tasks. Less time spent managing patient and traveler information means more time serving more clients.
  • Greater demand for services. There’s nothing like the Internet to make data search and comparison quick and easy. With so many healthcare services and facilities available, more travelers are likely to hit the road with confidence.
  • Support for high- quality medical care. Think of it—your complete patient records can be transferred to any facility with an Internet connection, quickly, safely and reliably. The data is clean, actionable and ready to view, analyze and share. It’s enough to give medical travel a good name—and encourage patients to engage in overseas medicine.

What’s the Medical Travel conference about?

Telemedicine is fast-growing practice and it’s something that will be discussed at the Medical Travel and Global Healthcare Business Summit. In some respects the MT industry is quite mature but because new tech has made so much progress we’re going to hear what IT medical travel facilitators will need. Organized by the Council for International Promotion of Costs Rica Medicine (PROMED), the summit is designed for healthcare and wellness providers, IT services business leaders, and hospital and clinic administrators. The summit presents eight topics, but these two are definitely worth paying attention to:

  • “Cross-Border Medical Services,” a workshop by noted healthcare planner Steven Shai Gold. He’ll take you through business strategy, payer and program operations topics step by step. And, you’ll take away tips that can help your business grow.
  • “How US Politics Can Help or Affect Global Healthcare Businesses,” a panel discussion by healthcare policy analysts, Michael Merola and Chara Penn McManus. If there are political speed bumps or accelerators to the medical travel industry, here’s where you can find them.

If you’re new to MT, this is where you can get the latest news about business opportunities, pitfalls and great ideas related to international healthcare. Networking, workshops, business meetings, investment information…much too much information to mention here. Here’s more event information on the event brochure. Or, check out the event website.

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