Country image in medical tourism: paradoxes, targeting, positioning. And the ethical side of the issue
We know that the country image influences the perception of the product as a whole.
The brand of a product or service must either emphasize the producer’s country or hide it on the contrary. It all depends on what image has the country of origin.
It is determined by the following criteria: the level of industrialization of the country, the social and demographic level, whether the service or product has common roots, that is, whether they were invented in a particular country (for example, Brazilian coffee from Brazil perceived good). As studies show, the country image should be taken very seriously.
Medical tourism paradox
For today in the field of medical tourism, there is a certain paradox because one of the main reasons for traveling for medical services is a price reduction.
Cheap destinations, for example, India, raised their popularity, however, we also know that the lower the price, the lower the quality.
Given the fact that health is the most important thing that a person has, the only thing that can explain the popularity of destinations in underdeveloped countries is low patient literacy and excessive confidence in various certifications and diplomas.
Yousra Hallem has stated exactly the same paradox. She notes that health is a service of a special level of trust and that people do not buy services or products that require a high level of trust on the Internet, however, it was the Internet that promoted this sector.
Patients are really searching for a lot of information on the Internet but it is worthwhile to understand that most sales do not happen via the Internet but through prescribers, who either have influence in the health area or are simply near. The fact that they near usually calm patients who think that in case of a problem they can go to them. Another important factor is the word of mouth.
Thus, the factors that influence the choice are:
- Word of mouth
- E-reputation (lots of information, testimonials that are easy to find)
- Prescribers, representatives
- Availability of certificates, which are much more important in poor countries
The more factors, the more chances, that is, a combination of factors will have the most impact.
However, this applies to the standard medical tourist, whose goal will be primarily to save money. If the medical tourist is looking for a specific treatment or VIP, additional factors not listed above will be important to him.
The behavior of a medical tourist as a consumer is poorly covered in the modern literature, which definitely prevents the participants of this market from choosing the right marketing policy.
However, if you look at existing studies, you can say that for a patient with an above average literacy, the country image will significantly influence his choice. Thus, clinics and providers suffering from an unfavorable country image should think about how to improve the image of their facility or their company.
As an option, certifications and establishing contacts with the prescribers of those countries from where you want to get patients work well. E-reputation is also an integral part of the patient engagement.
An ethical problem that exacerbates the picture for patients with high literacy and an indispensable role of the state
The inequality and a huge gulf between private and state clinics were pointed out in many different articles. This applies to medical facilities in many countries but this problem is particularly relevant for the developing countries.
Medical tourism only exacerbates this difference, and also contributes to the brain drain. It can be assumed that, in general, the great contrasts between the poor and the rich, the private and public sectors in the country create a generally negative impression about the country.
Even if the patient sees a high-tech hospital in the richest neighborhood, he will still see the reality of the country, and a person is so arranged that a generally good impression is easily spoiled. Poverty, around a cool clinic, is unlikely to cause positive emotions, rather a sense of guilt.
Thus, the participation of the government is necessary for the creation of a positive country image. It is not enough to develop just one sector or a certain number of clinics, overall figures will still show the truth.
It would be much more logical to introduce a symbolic solidarity fee for each medical tourist, which would be allocated to the development of the public sector. And ideally this fee should not make treatment for a tourist more expensive, it should be paid from the profits of the company or the hospital.
This is called a socially responsible approach, which we lack not only in the field of medical tourism. Nevertheless, health is not an industry. It’s a shame to know that thousands of foreigners come to your country for quality treatment, while the country’s native citizens do not have access to quality medicine.
Of course, such fee will only destroy medical tourism on the root, if it will be put into practice in countries where medical tourism is underdeveloped, as it will become an additional barrier. Examples include such countries as Ukraine, France, Portugal, and Belgium…
Moreover, recent observations and price comparisons of the French Medical Tourism Association show that recently inexpensive destinations are not so inexpensive anymore, and the only plus for which a patient went to a particular country for treatment is becoming irrelevant, and the country image is negatively aggravating the situation.
There is something to think about…