Medical Travel: The New Frontier
Quality, affordable healthcare is on the forefront of minds around the world. Out-of-pocket medical costs for critical and elective procedures continue to skyrocket, and nations offering universal care are struggling to keep up with the demand. As a result, millions of patients are crossing borders each year in order to access better healthcare options, save money, and cut down on increasingly long wait times. According to Patients Beyond Borders, the worldwide medical tourism market is estimated to be growing at a rate of 15-25%.
In a recent interview with Martin Cvetler and Petr Vankat, co-founders of Salutara, they discuss how Salutara.com is helping patients navigate the new world of medical travel, and how they plan to revolutionize the medical tourism industry.
Q: Hi Petr and Martin! Tell us a little bit about Salutara. Where did the inspiration to start an online medical travel platform come from?
Petr: Some people believe that traveling is the best way to enrich your life, and I completely agree. Several years ago I was visiting a friend in Switzerland, and came across a local travel agent who was providing citizens of the beautiful Swiss town, Thun, a chance to take advantage of high quality yet significantly lower priced Hungarian dentistry. It stroke me as a brilliant idea! I started imagining how great it would be to give people the means to find the perfect treatment, clinic and doctor, anywhere in the world.
A friendly, coherent online platform seemed like the easiest way to provide simple communication and allow patients to book their procedures directly. My mother is also an eye surgeon, so and I grew up around doctors. It only made sense.
Martin: There were other online platforms out there at the time we started building Salutara.com, but none that provided users with full, end-to-end service. Our idea wasn’t to be the same, and it still isn’t. We’ve created Salutara.com to be something like the Booking.com of medical treatments, although finding a clinic and booking a medical treatment is certainly not the same as booking a hotel room. When you’re working with patients from all over the world, with real medical concerns, building trust is the main concern.
Q: What are some of the main advantages of traveling abroad for medical treatments?
Martin: There are plenty of advantages of traveling abroad for a medical treatment. Shorter wait times, better quality, and lower prices to name a few. Patients generally want top quality for a reasonable and affordable price. Today, prices can vary 2-3 fold depending on the country. Recently, a client traveled from the USA for 5 days of extensive dental treatment. In total, she spent 8,800 USD. Back home in the USA, the same procedure would easily cost 3 times more.
Price aside, she was also extremely happy with the quality of the clinic in the Czech Republic. Based on her experience, she felt that it was better equipped than some US clinics.
Q: What is the most frequent question (or concern) patients have before traveling abroad for a medical procedure?
Petr: Price, quality and language spoken- in this order. As Martin mentioned, most people ask for good quality for an affordable price, however, some prefer quality regardless of price. And as far as languages, we direct our customers to clinics and doctors equipped with particular language skills. In the near future we’ll be launching a concierge service including interpretation on site.
Martin: We also provide every client with multiple price quotes from different clinics so they can compare and get a good feel for the price level. Our goal is to provide clients with standardized quotes that are easy to understand and compare. Simplicity is key. Our clients have busy lives and we value their time.
Q: Let’s talk about Salutara.com. What features and capabilities does your full-service, online platform provide?
Martin: The ultimate solution is a user friendly platform that connects clients with clinics for unlimited online consultations, price quotes, date booking, trip planning (when going abroad), including the transportation and accommodation. At the same time, every client has a dedicated Salutara coordinator that helps with questions before and during the trip, and helps clients make the right, and best decision for them.
Petr: Adding to what Martin said, it is also a matter of common sense. We want to solve the annoying problems people face when doing it themselves? For instance, having to approach clinics with different price lists, exchanging lengthy, exhausting e-mail back and forth (often hard to keep track of), discussing different availabilities, language skills, and of course, finding credible patient reviews. This is what we are currently solving and working on.
Q: How do you support the patients before, during and after their medical travel?
Martin: As I said before, we do and provide everything that helps to make the right decision about the clinic. Once the date of a treatment is reserved, we help each client organize everything else, including the airport transfers, accommodation and anything else they might need at the destination. Once they arrive, we make sure they are at all of their appointments on time, arrange any necessary transportation, and accompany them to the clinic if they wish.
Petr: In addition, as well as you might appreciate to be asked how everything was before leaving a restaurant, we do the same before our clients leave the country of treatment and when they arrive home. Feedback is crucial for further improvement and it also gives Salutara’s customers a chance to share a few happy “after” pictures with us, which so far they’ve loved doing.
Q: What responsibilities do you have as one of the world’s leading medical travel platforms?
Petr: It’s a good question. We are responsible for providing a variety of transparent options for customers to choose from. All data needs to be accurate and quick response times are critical for urgent treatments . This is especially true for IVF, when every seconds counts.
Martin: As Petr said, accurate and extensive information is 100% necessary, and we do not believe in cutting corners. Speedy and relevant responses are also important, as well as honesty, trust and care.
Q: How do you ensure the safest and most comfortable experience for your patients?
Petr: Clients have the option to ask for our Salutara welcome package. This includes having a personal assistant that picks them up at the airport, takes them to their hotel, and introduces them at clinic. It’s also totally natural to feel stressed before a surgery in a strange country. We understand that. Therefore, they appreciate having someone there, on the spot, ready to help provide comfort, courage and resolve any potential hick ups.
*Bringing patients a complimentary McFlurry or pumpkin spiced latte when there’s a sudden craving is just a bonus (smile).
Q: Your partnerships with clinics and physicians are a key factor in the patient’s success. How do you decide which partners meet your standards in order to provide highest level of service?
Petr: All of the clinics we work with are accredited, certified and members of various worldwide association. We do extensive research on each clinic beforehand recommending them to client. It’s also important to keep in mind that the medical field is very well connected, and the clinics we work with often recommend one another. For example, a dental clinic may recommend a plastic surgery clinic for cooperation. It is then our job to verify any personal bias- positive or negative. Also, you can tell a lot about a clinic from its management, staff and by looking into previous customers’ reviews. We take all customer feedback into consideration.
Q: Where do you see Salutara in the next few years? Which *new* treatments will you be offering?
Petr: Our goal to continually improve and provide more of what our clients want and need. In regards to treatments, there is a high demand on the market for laser eye surgeries – those are going to be next. Also dermatological procedures and so called mummy makeovers are to be added and later even more sophisticated treatments like knee or hip replacements and even proton cancer therapy.
Geographically, Salutara will expand its clinic offers to other countries such as Hungary, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand or Costa Rica and Mexico.
Q: Medical tourism is a booming industry, and shows no sign of slowing down. How does Salutara set itself apart from other medical travel agencies?
Martin: Well, in a way Salutara already has. A majority of agencies offer a limited scope of services focusing on a specific local market. For example, only bringing German customers to Hungary for dental treatments only. Salutara does not intend to be just ‘another agency’, per say, but the website/App which comes to mind every time you need a medical treatment. Salutara is transparent, easy to use, and an end-to-end service. Our goal is to facilitate direct communication with clinics/doctors, personal assistance and create a stress free process.