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The objective of this article is to highlight the importance of integrating web strategy into medical tourism marketing drive of the hospitals having stake in this industry) When Thomas L. Friedman was writing his much acclaimed book- “The world is flat”; he would have hardly imagined that this phenomenon would even penetrate into healthcare delivery sector! Trends of patients in the west opting to get their healthcare needs met by healthcare delivery centers in other parts of the world have been showing a robust growth. 2008 saw first ever world medical tourism and global health congress organized to focus in this industry.
The world healthcare market is estimated to be over US $ 3.6 trillion in 2004. During 2000-2004, the market has grown at a CAGR of over 8%. The market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7.8% to reach a value of US $ 5.25 trillion by 2009. The substantial portion of this market is managed healthcare: 51%. USA is the largest market for healthcare, with 40% share in world, and the total revenue being US $ 1.44 trillion in 2004. Other major markets were Asia Pacific (33.5%) and Europe (21%). The growing cost of medical treatment, increasing restricted insurance due to “preexisting” clause (About 250 mill), substantial uninsured population in US (47 mill.) followed by extended delays in treatment due to patient load in Canada (34 mill.) and European countries has added a new flavor to international healthcare delivery industry. Patients are now looking at affordable world class treatment with “no waiting” at healthcare delivery destinations outside home country. They research on web, connect to others in social media, travel agencies, hotels, insurance companies, interact with potential hospital at different countries and plan their visit. To add impetus to this, the insurance companies in the west have started offering various options to cater to this fast evolving industry. Hospitals focusing in medical tourism have been busy setting up world class centers, getting JCAHO accreditations, signing up with health insurance payors, signing up with agents, putting up promotion team, etc One key area that hospitals (Select countries in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and S. Africa) should not ignore is “utilizing webspace” strategically.
Before we look at how webspace could help a hospital identify target audience and successfully convert them to customers, let’s have a quick peek at the behavior pattern of people seeking health information and solutions. There are two categories of patients that we will consider here: A. Asymptomatic health conscious individuals B. Diagnosed patients with known ailments. A.) Most diseases are asymptomatic in its initial stages. They are usually detected by: 1. Accident, during health check ups or during treatment of some other ailment. 2. Proactive health conscious patient surfing web to address smallest health issue. B.) Diagnosed patients are very proactive in researching information related to their ailment. They study books, look for case studies on web, seek referrals, etc.
Here is the chain of activities that a patient performs once he/she comes to know of the ailment.
Web (Forums, health sites, connecting forums like patientslikeme.com) etc)
Learn on the problem that’s in the body.
Health camps, Books, family physicians
Family Physician, specialist medical consultant Web space Explore its treatment options
Explore cost implication
Explore insurance option (if any) – including premium loading, restricted cover, etc
Insurance companies Web space for other insurance options (if any)
Web- Networks, random search Explore alternate channels Friends, Travel agents, government resources
Friends, Travel consultants Explore through resources to affirm decision Web, social media, interactive media (if any)
It is evident that: 1. Conclusive action is a resultant of series of activities. 2. Webspace plays a common denominator in most of the activities Hence it is important that hospitals have a matured webspace strategy for engaging the visitor and assisting to desired conclusion. Now lets have a quick peek into the behavior pattern of visitors seeking health info in webspace. Here is transactional log based online behavior of people seeking health related info in web space.
Some findings: • Visitors don’t search for medical tourism to begin with. • The visitor would first look for relevant treatment or disease through search engines. • Majority of the visitors access micropages (on specific ailment or treatment) directly from search engines and consumer health sites/portals. • It is found that the visitors used more of google when looking for health related info. Compared to other search engines. Google: .gov domains Yahoo: MSN: Sessions 541345 219170 63459 30305 Frequency 41% 17% 5% 2%
Visitors searching for health info primarily search for: b) Symptoms and disease c) Reports on the relevant disease d) Case / Medical studies e) Insurance The pattern starts dissolving beyond insurance. Hence there is a scope in sustaining a pattern till a defined objective is achieved (in this case –positive relation building and assisting visitor to choose hospital for the treatment). To sustain this pattern, there is a strong scope to integrate webspace into the current traditional process. This will help people seeking info on health and treatment to arrive at conclusion to choose best and cost effective destination for treatment. Hence an opportunity for medical tourism2.0
Here is the modified diagram showing how the search behavior can be influenced to initiate positive relation building and assist the visitor to opt for treatment in the target hospital.
Integrated Micro pages: That talks on the disease from patient perspective.Push through SERP, SEO, SEM Micro Pages on the targeted subject
D A Chat session F
Toll free call center
Register Directly G
Integral feature of the hospital website
K L Post service social media connect
Explore Home page
Register with partner agency or local office of the hospital in home country
A. Search: i. ii. It’s well established that the person coming to search engine has a clear intent and has a “need” People searching for health related info, would primarily search for : a. Specific ailment / tips (Diabetes, colon cancer, blood Pressure, etc.) OR b. Specific treatment (Knee replacement, Dialysis, CABG, etc) OR c. Insurance options for the specific ailment OR d. Cheaper treatment options
B. View Results: A hospital must cater independently to all search needs mentioned above to initiate first level engagement. Effective SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing-preferably paid link on top search), and SERM (Search engine reputation management) approach will ensure right visibility. Advertising banners will not work at this stage. The topics that come up on the search engine have to be from microsites owned by the hospital. Its evident in the diagram above, that the visitors look for case studies, and reports on ailment/treatment. Hence these links and microsites should have userfriendly content on the ailments/treatments case studies, and medical reports. C) As evident from diagram, the visitor would potentially click on the study link. Well positioned links (in heat zone) will take visitor to the landing page of the microsite catering to case studies. The links on basics of the disease or treatment and insurance/cost should be placed at prominent position to drive the attention of visitor to this section. It’s through these links that the visitor get options to explore pricing and insurance coverage. As Insurance options vary from country to country, the microsite should have country specific info. (Covering an extensive list of indicative treatments and their cost in listed countries would be of high value to the visitor.)
D) By now the visitor has looked into : • Case studies • Understood the disease or treatment • and then looked into pricing options, There is a broad understanding of the situation, possible solutions, its cost in home country and at the hospital located in other country. At this stage there are two options for the visitor. 1.) Choose services at home country (very pessimistic on exploring options outside home country) 2.) Willing to explore further. It’s option 2 visitors, that has to be assisted through well positioned tabs to managed social media page. F) The social media will play an important role: 1. It will instill confidence to the visitor in the pursuit of finding solution to the ailment. The visitor would also begin to gain confidence on the hospital in discussion. 2. It will enable connecting with people sharing their positive experience of treatment and follow ups at the hospital in different country. (Customers who agree to write about their experiences) Check out Sherman health or Mayo clinic drive in social media like facebook. You will see active participation from patients, general visitors, past customers and fans! 3. Offer connecting tools like twitter. This is an interesting way to keep in touch with the prospects or customers. Based on the area of interest, the hospital can offer specific topic enrolment on twitter. At this stage the acceptance level of the visitor for the hospital is pretty high. Once the visitor signs in, then the hospital can give daily health tip that will be of use to the member. Checkout www.twitter.com/shermanhealth Both 2 and 3 become key in connecting with visitor’s decision making process. G) It is important to maintain constant touch with the visitor. What if the decision making process is prolonged and the visitor needs to think about it? How do you still be on top of mind recall?
Utility based desktop or mobile branded widgets would do the job maintaining contact. For instance CRF patient gets a utility tool to input all food and water intake. The widget then gives report on how friendly was it to the kidneys for that day. The widget regularly reminds on key tests like creatinine, BUN etc. Brand interaction of this nature would maintain top of mind recall. H) By now the visitor has gained enough information and has gained confidence after interacting at social media and with utility widgets. This is the stage when the visitor would like to explore delivery center in detail. This calls for personal contact and interaction. One of the easiest ways is inviting the visitor for a chat session, web conference (should be available 24/7). Second life is still trying to gain momentum. However using second life here at this stage will work good. The interaction between real and 3-D virtual worlds convey greater feelings of presence, facilitate the clinical communication process, positively influence group processes and cohesiveness in group-based therapies, and foster higher levels of interpersonal trust between therapists and patients. (J Med Internet )
The visitor would get an opportunity to visit replica of hospital in second life, interact with its service team. The service team should proactively interact with the visitor in ensuring successful confidence building exercise. Here is an example you can refer to get an idea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu-QNFLD1mg Both chat session and service team in second life should continue to highlight the 24/7 toll free number. The chat session or service team in second life can also assist the visitor in choosing the travel plan. It’s important to close the decision making chain by bringing the visitor to hospital agents chain-Real life. (Partner Travel agents, medical tourism consultants, local office, etc). This gives localization comfort to the visitor. This activity also strengthens relation between hospitals and agents. K). Once visitor gets admitted into the hospital, it becomes important to ensure excellent service delivery. This will ensure a happy customer who would in turn become the brand ambassador. The question is- How can this phase of process be marketed well so that it creates multiple brand ambassadors? The answer is “engaging all near and dear ones to the customer admitted”. They are the most keen audience. Create a virtual waiting room with an option to choose second life experience.
Maintain frequent updates on progress of treatment being given to the patient. Initiate chats or web conference with those wanting to interact. second life option gives all engaged viewers an opportunity to go through hospital premise. Visit waiting room, where the service team can interact and update progress of treatment (medical/operation, etc) Added feature like real time simulation of waiting room and the service team attending to them for updates gives the visitor a stronger binding with hospital. The over all experience of attention to the near and dear ones coupled with excellent service delivered to the customer would create multiple brand ambassadors. This will lead to many more people writing great experience on social media, than only the customer who got great treatment. The virtual waiting room can also update all photos and video clippings. L) As the happy customer leaves the hospital, its important to retain the loyalty. The best way is to keep the tab with the customer through > social media network updates (facebook, youtube, twitters, etc), > web based events > small localized events (general health checkups, get-to-gathers) to bring in the personalization. This will ensure top of mind recall and maintain a bond developed since the first initiation of engagement. Its these customers and their relatives/friends that will become real assets of the hospital in medical tourism business. Diagrammatic synopsis of the article. Other sites through ePR
Search jungle www
Ironing out the process through strategic web marketing
Interact directly (digital media)
Keep tab with customer Keep tab with near and dear ones
Deliver great service at the hospital. Offer great attention to near and dear ones through proactive updates and interactions.
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