Health care insurer NIB set to embrace medical tourism


Health Fund Brand Takes Flight

Globally, medical tourism is estimated to be a $100 billion industry, growing at a rate of 20 per cent to 30 per cent a year, and a University of Technology Sydney researcher has put the value of cosmetic surgery performed on Australians overseas at $300 million or more a year. Assuming an acceptable professional quality, for as long as there is a disparity between the cost of health care in one country and that of another, the future of medical tourism is likely to remain strong. As reported in the Australian newspaper on the weekend, Australian health insurer NIB wants to share in this growing market.

Medical tourism is market driven — it is around the world shaped by the complex interactions of a myriad of medical, economic, social and political forces. Individuals embark on worldwide journeys for health care to lower costs, decrease wait times and access medical services that aren’t available in their home country. While good health and a sense of wellbeing has always been on people’s agendas, there is no doubt that a growing trend for individuals to wish to ‘shape’ their appearance to something more akin to their idea of perfection is influencing medical tourism. It is exactly why cosmetic surgery and dental work will be at the top of the list of insurance cover provided by NIB.

What is interesting from a brand management perspective is that NIB provides a great reminder of the need for all brands to be scanning for trends that may impact on them, or can be leveraged to advantage. NIB has identified a ‘leak’ in the domestic market and has decided to be proactive in responding. NIB has been contracting clinics and specialists in Malaysia and Indonesia, along with Australian plastic surgeons and dentists to verify the work of their Asian counterparts. They are seeking to provide assurance as well as insurance. It is a big play, because inherently they will be exposed to more risk.

From a brand management perspective they are not only seeking growth opportunities, but they are also seeking to re-brand the category. NIB does not like the term medical tourism (and I can’t help agreeing) and instead wish to refer to the segment as medical travel. Regardless of what it is called, if NIB can take some of the risk out of an overseas excursion for medical purposes, they are likely to be on a winner — assuming the cost of insurance does not significantly discount the perceived financial advantages of seeking off shore medical services in the first place.

It will be interesting to see how NIB’s strategy plays out, as it will be observing how the local health sector stakeholders respond.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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