November 04, 2010

Medical Tourism - Promoting Thai Hospitals to the Middle East

By Delynn Ho, VP Sales

Time for your annual checkup? Need a root canal? Heart surgery? Or even a sex change operation? More and more people are traveling overseas to seek medical treatment. For some, the quality of medical care is simply better outside their own country; for others, the cost savings are significant.

The growing size of the medical tourism industry – estimated by some analysts to be worth US$40 billion annually – is leading hospitals to more aggressively promote their services to overseas patients.

Today, I'd like to take a look at one such effort – a mobile portal and ad campaign by one of Thailand's leading private hospital groups, Samitivej Hospital.

Thailand estimates that 920,000 people travel to the kingdom every year for medical treatment. An elective coronary artery bypass that would cost US$60,000 in the US is about US$15,000 in Thailand. Bladder surgery is 1/8th the cost. Thailand is also quite competitive compared with other Asian markets.

To market its services to patients overseas, Samitivej recently ran a mobile ad campaign in three Middle Eastern countries: Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The campaign consisted of a straight-forward graphic banner, published across all mobile channels in each of the three markets.

The banner directs users to Samitivej's Doctors on Mobile portal, which provides health alerts, write ups on health & beauty and information about the hospital's services.

What really impresses me about the site, though, is that it provides information about each of the hospital's doctors. The profiles include photos, information about the doctor's areas of expertise, his/her schedule and languages spoken. Importantly, there's also a telephone link so users can call to make an appointment.

The Samitivej group has several hospitals. Each branch offers a series of “Wellness” packages or general physical examinations by a physician, including blood, cholesterol and liver function tests. The mobile portal provides additional information about the medical services offered at each branch.

And the site also provides specific information about pricing and medical packages.

The two-month ad campaign cost US$1200 or about US$200 per market each month. As we've discussed in other case studies, it doesn't take many sales to recoup the advertising investment. (And while I don't know the specifics of the medical industry, my guess is that the margin from a single surgery could more than offset the ad spend.)

One thing which Samitivej did not do is track the success rate of the campaign. BuzzCity' online tools show that the ads had a click-through rate of 0.9% (slightly below the 1% industry average in the countries where the campaign ran). But Samitivej did not measure the percent of people who went from the banner ad to the mobile portal and then clicked to call for an appointment. Nor do we know how much the mobile viewers spent on medical services. Tracking details like this is really a best practice that every company should follow in order to accurately measure the ROI of their campaign.

There are a few other ways in which Samitivej could have improved this campaign as well:

1. The banner ad has five frames. Mobile viewers have short attention spans. We generally recommend a maximum of two frames.

2. Run text ads as well as graphic banners.

3. Produce more than one banner. Variety counts.

4. Integrate information about services, doctors and contact details into the news and health updates. No need to overwhelm readers with a strong sales pitch on these pages, but it's good to provide links for sales follow-through.

5. Samitivej has run their campaign in other medium as well, but without mentioning Doctors on Mobile. Maintaining a consistent single marketing message through all sales channels, including on their internet site and in traditional ads, pays off.

All in all, though, I think Samitivej is leading the way when it comes to using mobile to reach out to potential consumers in overseas markets.

Groups like the Tourism Association of Thailand – which has just launched an internet portal to promote medical tourism in the country – should take note, as should other medical providers in the region.