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5 Tips to Help Medical Tourism Brands Thrive in the Digital Age

By Rachael Seda (@rachaelseda)

Would someone actually travel to another country for medical care? Yes, according to CDC data up to 750,000 U.S. residents travel to another country for lower-cost medical or dental care each year and an Ipsos survey found that 38% of U.S. residents are open to health care abroad. The rising cost of health care and thriving online communities of consumers present an optimal opportunity for the medical tourism industry. But are they capitalizing on it?

Like everyone else, the medical tourism industry was hit hard after the economic downturn in 2008. But with the increase in healthcare costs and many procedures not being covered by insurance, such as invitro fertilization and cosmetic surgery, shouldn’t the medical tourism industry be thriving?

Image: Derek Key via Flickr, CC 2.0

To find out, I began looking for successful examples of online medical tourism campaigns.  I found nothing.  Perhaps the medical tourism industry hasn’t quite grasped the potential of social media like the mainstream travel industry has.  So how can the medical tourism niche learn from and implement some of the same successful social media strategies as their travel industry buddies?

Here are my 5 digital tips for medical tourism brands:

1.   SEO and boosting awareness – You may offer a great service but if no one can find your website, it doesn’t matter. With 87% of travelers using the internet for a bulk of their travel planning according to the Funsherpa infographic, medical tourism needs to take advantage of this opportunity to capture consumer attention.  Increasing your search engine optimization (SEO) makes it more likely that someone will find your business online. But how do you enhance your SEO and what affects it? The content on your website including how fresh it is, the keywords, links, social networks and more all influence a brand’s SEO. Paid search like Google AdWords can also help boost your SEO and further your message. While SEO can be complicated, there are little things any brand can do to help enhance their organic search online. SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is a great place to start. But remember the most important element in enhancing your SEO is to simply create engaging content.

2.  Content Hub – Speaking of engaging content, let’s take a look at your website. Do you have interesting videos from your medical professionals or previous patients? What about enticing photos and information about the destination? Your website, blog and social networks should provide potential customers with all the information they need for both their vacation and medical needs. Creating content on your site that people want to read, share and view is important. Take a look at your website, if you were a potential patient, does the website seem trustworthy? Does your site provide interesting and shareable information packaged in a variety of mediums in order to appeal to different audiences?

3.  Go visual – With people’s time and attention span decreasing, a heavier focus is increasingly placed on eye catching visuals. The medical tourism industry deals with both a serious topic (healthcare) and a fun one (vacation), to me this is an advantage. Why? Because you’re selling not only a service but a destination that lends itself to appealing visuals.  Capturing enticing visuals not only on your website and blog but also on social sites such as Pinterest, Trippy, Facebook and Instagram (hence going where your customers already are), makes it easy for your audience to share, which in turn spreads genuine awareness about your service to others.

Consumers love to share their own images too. According to Funsherpa, 76% of consumers post vacation photos to a social network, presenting a huge opportunity for brands to garner authentic images from actual customers. By being present on these social networks you make it easy for customers to share their photos on your Facebook page or tag you on Twitter for instance, all of which help promote your brand to their network. Leading me to our next point…

4.  Recommendations – According to Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising report, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. The second most trusted source of brand information and messaging is consumer online reviews at 70%. People take planning a vacation and travel very seriously but they take their health even more seriously. Securing authentic positive recommendations is vital. Social media provides customers outlets to express their opinions, concerns and accolades with their network. One of the best examples of user reviews driving the travel industry is the partnership between Expedia and Trip Advisor. Expedia clearly understands the influence recommendations have.

So how do you start collecting recommendations? The good news is encouraging customers to share their experience is easy (and they’re already expressing their opinion whether you know it or not).  Since we know consumers trust their friends and family the most a good place to start (depending on your target audience) is Facebook. Utilizing elements such as Facebook’s share option to encourage customers to share their experiences with their friends is a great way to start.

5.  Engage on a personal level – People want to engage with real humans. They crave genuine conversations with brands. The key is to make potential customers feel they’re receiving individualized and attentive care by a brand they can trust before they even step foot in your hospital.  Being present where your customers are online is the first step. The next is being responsive and conversational. Most importantly, earning a consumer’s trust, particularly in regards to something as important as someone’s health, is imperative. I think face to face tools such as Skype present worthwhile opportunities for strengthening trust and relationships. Think about it, before scheduling a medical procedure you’re likely to have a consultation to determine whether you trust the doctor, are comfortable with the procedure and to get answers to any burning questions. Video conferencing enables people to have this experience (without the expense of travel). Personally engaging with your customers and making the process as easy and fluid as possible, will reap dividends.

The travel industry has harnessed the power of social media, why can’t medical tourism?

What other digital tips would you offer the medical tourism industry? Do you know of any successful online medical tourism campaigns to date?

About Rachael Seda:

AE, Health PR @PadillaCRT. Grew up barefoot in Hawaii. Social media geek. #JMU alum. Runner. Creative. Optimist. Cheese=my weakness. I dream of traveling the world.

10 Comments on “5 Tips to Help Medical Tourism Brands Thrive in the Digital Age

  1.  by  Lisa

    You’ve intrigued me! Great tips for a growing industry. And if U.S.-based health systems are smart, they will embrace most of these suggestions as well,or see their competitive market expand from the hospital across the town to a hospital across the border or even the ocean!

  2.  by  Nathanael

    Great post… You really hit on some key areas of interest here.

  3.  by  Rachael Seda

    Thanks for commenting Lisa. You’re right U.S. based health systems need to embrace these same tips!

    Thanks Nathanael for your comment and for reading!

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  5. Pingback: 5 ways to market medical tourism | Articles | Main

  6.  by  geomark

    I guess you didn’t happen to see the Thailand medical tourism blog contest that was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. A pretty big deal with lots of backing, promotions online and offline, built around social media and blogging. That seems like a pretty good run at online marketing of medical tourism. Perhaps not sustained enough?

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