Did you know that according to the National Travel and Tourism Office in 2016 there were 66,960,943 United States citizens who traveled outside of the country?
Traveling has always been a fabled American past time, with tales of the open road and a desire to see the untouched. Today though people are not only seeking to take in local cultures and new sights during their trips, but a fair amount are actually traveling to undergo medical procedures.
Medical tourism has been growing over the recent years due to both the affordability of travel options and the rising cost of healthcare in some countries. While the numbers are difficult to pin down exactly, it was estimated that in 2016 there were 1,400,000 Americans who traveled outside of the country for healthcare related purposes. This number is not stagnant but continuing to grow. It is incredibly easy to find stories of both medical tourism success and nightmares on the internet, with renown publications such as the New York Times sending their authors out to recount their own experiences with international healthcare.
The Berlin based company MEDIGO has begun to capitalize upon this increasing market share with their platform aimed at connecting together individuals and international clinics.
Founded in 2013, MEDIGO has sought to develop a streamlined method of connecting those seeking to participate in medical tourism with accredited and trusted institutions. Though their platform you are able to do everything from hiring a care assistant to help book your airfare, accommodations, and ground transportation to finding a second opinion regarding your diagnosis and treatment options.
We had a chance to speak with MEDIGO about their work and future aspirations in revolutionizing the way medical tourism is perceived and partaken in. Their insight provided clarity on a medical practices that traditionally has been looked down upon and viewed as suspicious by many. In a global society though it may be time to change these perceptions and view healthcare from a wider, international lens.
Junto Health (JH): What was the inspiration behind founding Medigo?
MEDIGO: The idea behind MEDIGO started with a toothache. During a trip to China, Pawel (one of our three co-founders) started feeling a toothache and needed a root canal. Unfortunately he couldn’t find a doctor able to speak English and help him with his problem. He saw the gap in the industry and then came back to Berlin and joined forces with Ieva and Ugur, who already had experience building international marketplaces. They figured out that a price and services comparison with a booking engine tool was missing from the medical industry, and it would have been extremely beneficial.
JH: In the past the idea of medical tourism has been looked down upon by doctors and has had a reputation as being risky. How is Medigo working to change this reputation?
MEDIGO: We believe in patient empowerment and price transparency through clear procedures, clinic, and destination information. We feel that providing the patient with valuable information and support will definitely help to make the best decision when it comes to where to get medical care.
We’re committed to building trust within medical tourism and, as one of the market leaders, we set an example that smaller medical tourism facilitators can follow.
Here’s an outline of our quality program generally:
Strong medical quality: International medical accreditation or certification (JCI, ISQua, ISO)
Experience treating international patients
Good reputation/feedback from patients
- An exhaustive reputation review of the hospital through news and relevant internet sites
Excellent communication (clear, fast, friendly)
In a number of cases, we have personally visited the facilities as well
Once a clinic is listed, each review left by a patient is checked manually by our team. We don’t select only positive reviews, we post all of them. We want patients to have a deep understanding of their healthcare options. The more information someone has, the better healthcare decisions they can make.
JH: What are the top 3 types of medical procedures and top 3 destinations that are booked through the platform? Has any data/information been gathered on why the booking of these procedures is common?
MEDIGO: We definitely saw that the most popular destinations are Thailand, Hungary, and Mexico, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Medical tourism happens across all specialties and procedures -- from a small mole removal to a rhinoplasty and bariatric surgery all the way to extremely complex oncological procedures. MEDIGO facilitates all of these.
Initially, our platform was focused on helping people in need of elective and affordable treatments in dentistry, plastic surgery, and reproductive medicine. We then noticed that there was the need to facilitate also very complex procedures, so we've since grown significantly to also help patients with more serious medical needs.
Globally, there is certainly a higher percentage of people traveling for elective medical treatments - this is largely because they are more common in the population (e.g. more people need dental implants than a bone marrow transplant because missing teeth are a more common condition). No matter which treatment you need, it's important to make sure you find the right medical specialist.
JH: Are there any types of procedures where medical tourism is not advised?
MEDIGO: There are many procedures we do not list and others we discourage for medical tourists. An example of the latter is braces or similar dental work that requires multiple and regular visits to the dentist – We keep the procedure on medigo.com because we do get requests from people in-country who find through us a local dentist that can speak their language (e.g. English or French).
Procedures we do not list include unethical, unapproved/ineffective, or in some places illegal procedures. For instance, certain cosmetic procedures have no proven effect, despite having a strong marketing budget. Another example that raises concerns about medical tourism concerns organ transplants, so we permit inquiries for this procedure only when there is a living, related donor willing to take part in the procedure – And even then, our Chief Medical Officer would vet the case very carefully.
JH: Who makes up the main demographic of Medigo users? Which demographic are you looking to expand into next?
MEDIGO: We’ve connected over 50,000 patients from 220 countries to clinics and hospitals in 36 countries, and our patient care team collectively speaks 20 languages. Our next step is to translate our website into Arabic.
There are three main reasons we see for why people travel abroad:
Access to a specialist or a certain type of treatment when it is not available in their home country, or only available at a lower quality (e.g. a Russian patient traveling to Germany for oncology)
Cost of a treatment (e.g. an American or French traveling to Hungary for dental implants and saving thousands of dollars)
Waiting times (e.g. an Irish person travels to Spain for a hip replacement because their waiting times at home may arrive to two years or even longer)
JH: In your eyes, what does the future of healthcare look like?
MEDIGO: Our mission is to improve access to healthcare worldwide. We believe that finding healthcare should be easy and that everyone should have access to quality, affordable medical care, no matter where they live.
To get the perfect medical treatment in-country would be ideal, but when you look at what’s happening in certain places (e.g. the U.S.), the medical tourism sector will more than likely keep on increasing. We estimate the sector is growing at about 20% per year at the moment, and this looks pretty steady. It is very important to keep in mind that affordability isn’t the only factor that sends patients abroad – quality of care and shorter waiting times are also big parts of medical tourism. Again, in an ideal world these would not drive people abroad for medical care.
JH: Do standards and safeguards need to be put in place so there is not a drain on the healthcare system and public health systems of developing countries that are appealing to foreigners due to cheap costs?
MEDIGO: Some recent trends suggest an opposite trend: In Nigeria, people going abroad for medical care led to considerable criticism of the government, and it’s likely the government will increase investment in healthcare to stem the criticism. Similarly, the Chinese government recently announced huge investment in healthcare in Hainan in order to decrease the numbers of Chinese citizens going abroad to receive medical care.
Of course there are potential ethical issues, but leading destinations are setting good examples of how to manage medical tourists. For example, the Turkish government signed a deal with airlines to give a discount on airfare to medical tourists. These visitors boost general tourism income, and the government can then use this income to benefit their own citizens.
JH: What are your next 3 goals at Medigo?
MEDIGO: Our next three goals are:
Continue growing our platform. This means more trusted providers in more countries.
Publishing user friendly and globally applicable quality outcomes: Better price transparency, better quality transparency
Continue improving the user experience: Online keeps evolving, and we’ll keep on investing in our product and IT teams to improve our platform.
To learn more about MEDIGO visit their website and follow them on Twitter (@MEDIGOcom).