Friday, April 15, 2016

USA - Importance of Payments in Medical Tourism

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Patients travel for care for various reasons including the availability of specialized treatments, access to the latest procedures, long wait times or the high cost of care in their home countries, or the desire to recover away from friends and colleagues.

Making and reconciling payments in medical tourism – mostly large and crossing international borders – can be challenging.

Many medical tourists pay for their care themselves, without the involvement of insurance companies. At this often stressful time, most patients would benefit from peace of mind, but the payment process is anything, but peaceful. Patients are often unsure of the best way to initiate an international payment. Exchange fees are often high and almost always confusing. Patients can never be quite sure they are paying the correct amount. Worrying about whether their payment has been properly received is counter-productive to health and recovery.

On the healthcare institution side, the reconciliation issues for international payments can also be very complex and time-consuming. Healthcare facilities find matching payments to specific patients and procedures to be difficult and often encounter additional processing fees for these payments. Most processes tend to be a highly manual with lots of room for error.

Cross-Border Payment

As facilities look to attract more medical tourists, they’re going to have to consider the impact of managing a larger volume of cross-border payments – for their patients and their own operations. If your institution is already serving a large number of international patients, and/or looking at attracting a larger number in the coming years, here are a few things to consider when about patient payments.

·         Demand for related support services – With patients around the world making large sum payments from different time zones, the number and frequency of payment-related questions and inquiries will rise – at all hours and in a variety of languages. Most hospitals aren’t structured to handle payment-related questions 24/7. They also do not want to be in that business. Consider how you can offer this service without adding additional overhead and cost.

·         Payment convenience – As international travel for healthcare becomes more common, patients will look for more convenient, cost-efficient and transparent channels to make their payments. This will drive more of these transactions to web channels (vs. traditional agent-based organizations and financial institutions) due to the ability to have funds transferred quickly and safely; and to track payment status online, via email or SMS. These capabilities can also ease the support services burden.

·         Familiar/local payment options – The ability to offer international patients familiar payment options in their local currency, using a simple web experience can be a significant differentiator in the patient experience. Channels that offer discounted currency conversion rates compared to those offered by banks in the patients’ home countries will likely also be more attractive.

·         Compliance and transparency – With the increased threat of terrorism, and the focus on financing sources, there will be a much greater emphasis on transparency and compliance on any entity accepting large, cross-border payments. Hospitals will need to be able to quickly verify sources, ensure strict compliance with anti-money-laundering laws and be able to provide detailed transaction reporting for all large, cross-border payment transactions.

Payments in medical tourism are often an after-thought, but as international medical travel becomes more common and more funds change hands, it will take on a greater significance – for both the payers and the payees.

Healthcare institutions serious about attracting more international patients will need to address the challenges surrounding payments in medical tourism sooner rather than later by offering their international patients a stress-free, localized payment experience; and streamlining their own payment collection and reconciliation efforts in the back office.

Mike Massaro

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