Medical tourism is booming. By some estimates, the industry-which serves patients traveling to overseas hospitals to receive superior, or more affordable, treatment than what's available locally-is growing by as much as 20% each year. It represents a market worth up to $72 billion.
In the past 20 years, healthcare has wildly improved in emerging markets, and has become world-class. Meanwhile, mature markets like the U.S. have seen similar strides in their premier-level care. These trends, combined with the emergence of affordable air travel and good exchange rates, have revolutionized the industry.
The Internet, however, has arguably been medical tourism's greatest boon in recent years. Global patients can now research and locate premiere (or affordable) care with ease. Finding solutions for their needs-the most common of which are cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and cardiovascular and reproductive treatments-is now a few mouse-clicks away.
How big is this business? The numbers don’t lie:
- Patients Without Borders estimates global medical tourism is growing at 15% to 20% each year
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, 750,000 U.S. residents travel abroad for care each year
- Other sources suggest that number may be as high as 1.25+ million
- This represents an increase of over 150% in less than 10 years
- Beyond the U.S., the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated there are up to 50 million medical tourists worldwide each year
The industry has come a long way from its long-ago origins, where ancient Mesopotamians trekked to temples in Syria to heal eye disorders and Greeks made pilgrimages to remote regions to visit the sanctuary of Asklepios, the god of healing.
These days, medical tourism is a multibillion-dollar global industry, with a market size of between $45.5 billion and $72 billion (based on cross-border patients spending an average of $3,800 to $6,000 each visit), estimates Patients Without Borders.
Countries such as Mexico, and regions in Southeast and South Asia are seeing the greatest influx of international patients. However, mature markets such as the U.S. remain a top destination. Some studies suggest the U.S. represents the No. 3 most-popular medical tourism destination globally, and No. 3 among some wealthy overseas travelers.)
Hospitals in the U.S. “are able to attract foreign patients for high quality and specialized care,” economists in the U.S. and Germany found. “These inbound medical tourists are usually private patients, and therefore often provide a financially advantageous source of income; USA hospitals with dedicated international centers generate up to 10% of total revenue from international patients.”
That's an opportunity many U.S. hospitals shouldn't ignore. One of the best ways healthcare facilities can attract, educate and serve these global customers is by translating and localizing their English-language websites. As we'll soon see, providing content to these patients in their languages of choice can lead to more traffic, leads and conversions.
Francesco Rocchi, a Global Online Strategist with our Global Growth team, recently conducted research on this subject. We chatted with him to learn more.
Localized Sites Act as Beacons
"Firstly, a clinic or hospital's website is the most important channel of communication, and it's and the main gateway for potential customers," Francesco explains. "It provides information that wouldn't otherwise be available to people all over the world. Localizing and optimizing website content for international visitors is a relatively easy, and very powerful, way to engage them."
We've seen this first-hand with our own clients. We recently examined analytics from a localized website we operate for a group of U.S. hospitals. This site's intended audience lives in the U.S.-but that hasn't stopped a rush of global consumers from visiting the site and conducting research.
In fact, by simply offering a localized website, the hospital group saw a surge in new visitors from international markets. This traffic was larger by half, compared to international visits to its English counterpart. Further, organic traffic saw a similarly powerful increase (from 25% to 38%) from users in global markets, Francesco says.
We've seen surges in traffic from Latin American countries; a natural lift, considering the localized site is in Spanish. But "interestingly, the single non-English-speaking country with more visitors to the website is Russia," Francesco says. "This suggests an untapped audience."
(This jibes with independent data that suggests now more than ever, Russians are traveling overseas for medical treatment. Three years ago, more than 300,000 Russians spent over $1 billion on such “outbound” medical tourism.)
Further, we found a strong relationship between hospital personnel and their potential international customers. Global site visitors conduct research on individual physicians 50% more than domestic visitors do. (22% vs. 14%.) Most of these potential patients are looking for U.S.-based physicians who hail from their home countries..
"This kind of traffic-driven by necessity to search for a specific professional-is potentially very valuable," Francesco says. "This is suggested by the fact that bounce rates on localized physician lists or research pages tend to be close to 1%, more than 50 times lower than average."
Spotlight Relevant Localized Content
Clinics and hospitals that cater to these inbound patients can also savvily highlight relevant treatments on their localized websites. For instance, Hispanic-Americans from Central and South America are more likely to be at risk for sickle cell anemia than other ethnic groups. Our data suggests they tend to visit pages related to those treatments more than others.
A similar phenomenon was observed regarding Spanish-language content on bladder health. About 20% of U.S.-based visitors to the localized site visited pages dedicated to the topic. However, many more international visitors-nearly 70%-spent time on these pages.
"Sites serving global consumers in different languages can actively showcase this persuasive content through resonant localized promotions, or with in-language Pay-Per-Click campaigns," Francesco explains. "The result? Increased engagement and traffic, powered by culturally-relevant content."
The first step in engaging these global consumers is to partner with a great website globalization platform provider, Francesco advises. It's even better if that vendor can provide localized On-Site Search, he says.
“Such searches are key to maximizing the chances of acquiring foreign customers,” he says, “whose main access to the hospital is the website.”
Further, it’s important to know what not to translate on a website, Francesco says. If a specific service is so ubiquitous that its English name is often treated like a brand, it shouldn’t be translated, he says. If the term is translated, there’s a high risk that a global customer—who is likely searching for the procedure under its well-known English name—might not find the localized website in search results.
That’s a missed opportunity, he says.
"Always opt for the best-possible user experience, no matter what language your website might be in," he concludes. "Making the on-site content as compelling, educational and relevant as possible will lead to higher traffic and conversions."