Medical and Dental Tourism is growing by leaps and bounds, but that does not in itself ensure a successful trip for each-and-every Patient. People who do not research enough, or do too much research (and rely on questionable sources) can end up in Medical or Dental Clinics that are not properly set up to handle their medical or dental needs to their level of satisfaction. There are many Clinics and Doctors to consider, so best not go it alone. An International Patient Coordinator is often your best bet for a smooth trip.
Unfortunately, since Medical and Dental Tourism remain relatively new industries there are few International Patient Coordinators and even fewer who are competent, qualified, and trustworthy. Equally troubling is many intermediaries have arrived on the scene, like ambulance-chasing lawyers after a multi-car-accident. It is reminiscent of what happened in the Hotel Industry where TripAdvisor.com stepped in, and then many other companies followed suit to try to earn easy money.
Even though there are upsides to some of these intermediary companies (Patient reviews, quicker to compare options), to a certain extent they destroy the direct relationship between Customer and Provider. In this case, the Patient and the Doctor/Clinic. Many people do not realize that making a poor decision selecting their hotel and making a wrong decision on where to receive medical/dental treatment are errors of different degrees. One inconveniences you for a night or so, and the other can leave you in poor health, or without a good set of teeth.
So, I have outlined a few things you should consider if you are not dealing directly with the Doctor who will be performing your procedure(s) or his/her in-house Patient Coordinator. The truth is, prominent Doctors and those who are in big demand are often just too busy to discuss tangential matters that often need to be discussed. That is why you will be wise to place your trust in the hands of your chosen Doctor’s/Clinic’s Patient Coordinator. But be careful, sometimes these are experienced Professionals, and other times just commissioned sales people, Agents, appointment makers, or warm bodies answering a telephone/email.
Since Medical and Dental Tourism is still in the first wave of its growth and expansion, there are few World Class Dental or Medical Clinics willing to spend the money required for in-house professional representation, so here are a few things to consider:
- Work Experience
In this business, experience trumps everything; and an experienced Patient Coordinator can be critical to ensuring a successful Medical or Dental trip. He/she is your eyes on the ground at your chosen destination, and he/she will be able to help you avoid any common pitfalls and take advantage of insights gained while working with Medical/Dental Tourists over an extended-period of time. The most experienced Coordinators have counseled and helped bring across borders hundreds or thousands of patients.
A genuine and truly experienced Patient Coordinator generally works on site at the Dental Clinic or Medical Facility they represent. If they do not, beware. How can they represent the Doctors and their associated Clinic(s) if they do not know the people and the facilities well which they represent? The truth is, they can’t… well, they can to the benefit of the Doctor/Clinic, but likely not to the benefit of the Patient. Clinics can be as different from one another as one can possibly imagine; cleanliness, hygiene, materials, standards, processes, and protocols, waiting times, amenities, etc., etc. – the list is long.
A solid Patient Coordinator works at least several months with a Doctor/Clinic before they consider counseling or agreeing to bring people in for treatment from a foreign country. This is not like selecting a golf club that you can change next time you take a whack at a golf ball; nor is it like buying a pair of shoes that can be thrown away if they don’t fit well. A Patient Coordinator should help the Patient and the Doctor determine if there is a proper fit. And a responsible and ethical Patient Coordinator prevents a prospective Medical/Dental Tourist from traveling to a Clinic that is not believed to be the best fit for any particular-Patient.
- Ability to Communicate Clearly and Completely
Communication is key to a successful Medical/Dental outcome. An experienced Patient Coordinator will be bilingual and will have an intimate understanding of the Host Country and the Country where the Patient resides. While most Doctors who treat Dental and Medical Tourists speak English, sometimes they do not. And sometimes, while they are bilingual or multilingual, their level of understanding of their second, third or fourth language is not as great as their native language.
Likewise, there are many Assistants and others involved, and since the devil is often in the details, a Patient needs to know and trust that their Medical/Dental Practitioners are on the same page as they are – and that all details are understood, considered and acted upon or not acted upon, as appropriate/necessary. Nothing should be assumed or left to chance.
Communications are important always, but never more so than when issues arise. Medical/Dental care is complex. Most times, things go as planned, but sometimes, they do not. Sometimes it is because Patients do not disclose critical details, and other times genetics, bad timing or bad luck is the culprit. Human error is also a possibility on the Clinical or Administrative side.
The true test of a great Dental Tourism Provider (Doctor/Clinic) is how they handle anything that goes awry. Often, the ability to communicate a situation properly will be the difference between a setback and a failed trip. A great Patient Coordinator helps ensure great outcomes. There is always a broad spectrum of possible outcomes in medical/dental care, but most should fall closer to perfect than mediocre.
Many people think that because they have been a Dental or Medical Tourist, that it qualifies them to serve as an Intermediary/Agent/Patient Coordinator for Dental or Medical Clinics. It is a pretty-scary proposition, but it is the reality in today’s smartphone culture. If you are dealing with a “front-man or front-woman”, you best check them out as if you were checking out the person holding the scalpel/drill. Is this their career or just a hobby? Are they there to help patients, or just to earn a buck?
Personally, I received my post-graduate education at Johns Hopkins University. While I believe they offer the best Medical/Dental-related training in the world, there are many other legitimate training grounds for this type of profession. Having worked a decade in Travel and Tourism helped me establish my bona fides, and to a lesser degree so did being a Dental Tourist. There are other legitimate paths to credibility in this market space, but make sure your Patient Coordinator meets some objective standards, along with your personal gut instinct or smell test.
The trend I fear taking root is that profiteers (Associations and other Intermediaries) start setting their “credentials” as being valid. For instance, if an Association has a “Learn to be a Patient Coordinator” in several weeks, or after completing an online course you will become a so and so… beware. These are problems waiting to happen, in my humble opinion. I have seen the blind leading the blind, and I believe it irresponsible and dangerous.