The Role of Hotels in Global Healthcare

As more and more patients cross borders to access healthcare services it is becoming increasingly important for hotels and other hospitality providers to understand their role in the patient’s medical tourism continuum of care.  In many countries it is common for patients to be interned a day or two at the hospital for the surgical procedure or treatment and then spend another week to ten days recuperating at a hotel.

What can hotels do to ensure an optimal recovery environment for medical tourism guests?

You are not a hospital

Hotels that wish to cater to medical guests need to be clear that their main mission is not to provide medical care, but instead, to create a healing environment for patients while monitoring their recovery.  Their goal should be to make the patient as comfortable as possible while working with the patient or the patient’s caregiver to ensure that all of the doctor’s post-op care instructions are followed.  This may require that a nurse or patient assistant administer injections, change bandages or take a patient’s blood pressure.  While these activities may should very “hospital oriented,” they are actually part of the normal aftercare process and can be administered safely outside a hospital environment. If medical guests, on the other hand, are being pushed around the hotel in a wheelchair with an IV drip, then the hotel has probably gone beyond its calling and may be treading dangerous legal waters if a patient has a medical emergency.  Hotels also risk scaring off their traditional guests if the hotel lobby suddenly looks like a hospital’s emergency room.

Assess your physical infrastructure and surroundings to ensure they fit the needs of medical travelers

While most hotels were not built with the idea of catering to medical travelers, the majority of larger hotels have been designed to accommodate guests with disabilities. If a hotel is located in the U.S., then it must comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities ACT) requirements which were recently updated.  These include strict guidelines regarding accessibility to entryways, rooms, bathrooms, and public spaces such as pools and gyms. Hotels in other countries, however, may be subject to less stringent government regulation with regard to being accessible for guests with disabilities. Hotels that cater to of medical travelers should consider making the following modifications to hotel spaces and a percentage of their guest rooms:

  • Hotel entryways should be wheelchair accessible
  • Hallways and corridors free of any steps or abrupt vertical level changes
  • Full size elevator that can comfortable accommodate a wheelchair or patient with a walker
  • All doors into and within select guest rooms should be at least 32” to accommodate wheelchairs, crutches or walkers
  • Ample room space to maneuver a wheelchair
  • Drapery wands and controls on fixed lamps are easily operable with one hand
  • Wheelchair accessible peep holes
  • Portable shower benches
  • Faucet controls and shower diverter can be turned on and off easily and are operable and usable with one hand
  • Elevated or raised toilet seats with grab bar

While not all medical travelers will be using wheelchairs, many will have mobility limitations, particularly after undergoing surgery.  The more hotels can do to adapt certain spaces to meet the needs of medical travelers, the more success they will have attracting this market.

Assess/adapt services to ensure they fit the needs of medical travelers

Many of the services required by medical travelers can be accommodated within a hotel’s current service platform with little or no modifications.  These include:

  • Offering an expedited check-in service as might be provided to business executives
  • Offering airport pick-ups/drop-offs
  • Scheduling transportation service to nearby restaurants and shopping venues
  • Providing frequent linen and towel changes
  • Availability of special diets and flexible room service times

However, there are some services that will require a higher investment in resources:

  • Scheduled doctor/nursing visits to monitor the patient’s condition
  • Flexible transportation service to hospitals/clinics for doctor appointments and treatments
  • Transportation vans equipped with hydraulic lifts for wheelchairs

Hotels seeking to add more value to a medical guest’s stay can also look at hiring a rehabilitation therapist or providing special massages for medical guests that improve the recuperation experience.

Train staff to understand the needs and expectations of medical guests

Hotel staff should be sensitized to the medical traveler’s unique needs and expectations. In general, medical guests require more hands-on care than regular guests.  Hotel staff should make a habit of calling medical guests once or twice a day to make sure they are okay and have everything they need. As mentioned previously, medical guests may require frequent linen and towel changes due to their wounds; they may have special dietary requirements (such as patient who have undergone weight loss surgery); they may require flexible transportation options or have special mobility requirements. Hotel managers, front desk supervisors and staff, housekeeping, room service, and food & beverage personnel should all be trained to anticipate these needs and any safety do’s and don’ts (such as what to do and who to call in an emergency) when serving or aiding medical travelers.

Not all medical travelers are the same

Finally, it is important to be aware that medical travelers come in all strips and colors. Some may have traveled for dental treatment while others may be staying at a hotel after undergoing a double knee replacement.  The former will require no more attention than a regular guest while the latter will need much more hands on attention. To provide medical guests with the best possible experience, hotel staff should communicate closely with hospitals and clinics to ensure they understand the patient’s particular needs and expectations.

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