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Editor’s NoteIf you follow any of the popular medical travel news feeds you’ve no doubt seen a good bit of buzz about recent certifications issued by the Medical Travel Commission.

Jim Tate, President and Founder, Medical Travel Commission

According to the company’s website, the International Patient Program Certification is designed to “recognize organizations that provide extraordinary, best-in-class service to patients traveling across international borders for care” and to elevate the “level of service quality by safeguarding patient experiences.”

Medical Travel Today spoke with the president and founder of the Commission, Jim Tate, to learn more about the organization and the certification process.

Medical Travel Today (MTT): What led you to create the Medical Travel Commission and a new certification program for medical travel?

Jim Tate (JT): Good question. As your readers probably know, there are a number of programs similar to The Joint Commission out there that examine certain aspects of the care delivery process at hospitals and offer a quality accreditation. They exist in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and so on, and they provide a certain level of review including patient safety, quality of care, documentation of policies and processes, review of provider credentials, licensing, etc. From my view, what they provide in terms of a review is similar to what the Department of Health does at a restaurant. They come in and make sure the kitchen is clean, the employees are washing their hands, food is properly stored, and served either hot enough or cold enough. It’s very much about safety, the system and the delivery, but not at all about the experience.

Obviously there are hundreds and hundreds of facilities that have received the various accreditations, and I do believe they are essential. On the front end, however, if a patient goes from Dubai to Chicago or vice versa, the expectations and realities of the actual patient experience are all over the map. Some hospitals have fantastic international patient departments…some that go well beyond the usual handling of issues related to visas, billing, EMRs, informing patients of local customs, and so on…the kind of things that aren’t addressed in the standard accreditations.Â

And truly you can receive great healthcare but still have a bad experience based on everything from language issues that prevent you from fully understanding your doctor to simply feeling uncertain or even unsafe about where you are.

I simply felt there was a need to come up with a certification process that indicates to consumers that a given hospital meets certain standards related to the patient experience. Something more than just a smile upon arrival and certain food options.

MTT: So how do you determine exactly what elements of the experience are the ones that matter?

JT: Quite honestly we began with a very personal list that included all the questions we would ask if a family member was traveling abroad for care. This evolved into specific criteria, and became further refined as we realized we didn’t just want an acceptable level of care for our loved ones, but an extraordinary level of care.  Frankly, the majority of hospitals probably wouldn’t be able to meet all of our criteria.

That said, the first of our qualifying criteria is that a facility have an international quality accreditation from an organization like JCI. Understand we’re not trying to duplicate what those organizations do so well. They do it and it is absolutely essential to the patient experience because they ensure the quality of medical care and safety is there. Without a current accreditation you can’t get our certification.

MTT: At the risk of sounding disrespectful, what gives your organization the authority to deem a facility worthy?

JT: That’s a fair question and certainly one we get a lot. Happily I have a few very good answers to it.

The first is Bambi Rose. Bambi is our director of certification and she has years of experience in the certification process and protocols. She worked for a number of years as the Testing and Certification Program director for the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology. She’s also worked at several healthcare facilities as a chief privacy officer and a director of health information and admitting. She is extremely well-versed in creating criteria, determining how to validate it, and creating an actual certification process that’s valid and meaningful.

In addition, our chief medical officer, Dr. Stewart Hamilton, has practiced medicine all over the world and brings to our program the provider experience of dealing with international patients. He’s seen many successful programs, as well as ones that don’t work for a variety of reasons. Dr. Hamilton did his thesis in medical school on the differences between patient vs. physician expectations and bridging the communication gap to improve patient care. He has presented at medical conferences internationally sharing his deep understanding of the topic. That physician eye to the experience is quite critical.

Their input and understanding helped shape our criteria into the final form.

Part Two of this conversation will be featured in Issue 16.

About Jim Tate
Jim Tate has worked as a consultant with over 175 healthcare-related companies across the world, ranging from Sri Lanka and Israel to Pakistan and Peru, providing health information technology services in both ambulatory and in-patient environments. He has directly led healthcare implementation projects throughout the world. Having witnessed disparities in services provided to international patients, he felt compelled to create “best-in-class” service standards that would benefit hospitals, travel facilitators and prospective patients.

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