The practice of medical tourism might be a thing of pride for the elite class who can afford it, but it is costing countries like Nigeria billions of dollars which goes out of the economy every year. If these monies will be rechanneled into the economy, then patients’ trust has to be reignited in the Nigerian medical professional and system.
Founder and Consultant Gynaecologist of Tabitha Medical Centre, Dr Chito Nwana was discussing challenges of the business of medicine in Nigeria, during the Nairametrics Business Half Hour Show on radio.
Even though people are free to spend their hard-earned money the way they want to, Nwana noted that the money had been earned within the Nigerian economy, but would subsequently be sent into the economy of countries like the United States, India, United Arab Emirates, where these people hoped to get better medical services.
Introducing patient-centric models
Previous experiences have caused people to be wary of hospitals and health centres in the country, so that once they feel they can afford it, they would rather travel abroad.
“Tabitha is built on a patient-centred care system where we regard our patients as clients and pay attention to customer service. Before now, the medical practitioners did not pay attention to this because the thought was that patients cannot do without the services, and would nevertheless, come for it. However, I think patients want to be treated like they matter because this is critical in generating traffic.
Without them, we don’t have a business, and without us, they may not have the best health. It is important that we build patient trust in us again so that we can reverse medical tourism in a way that is beneficial to us and to the country. We need them to know and believe that we can do those things they travel out for, here in the country and safely according to international standards,” Nwana stated.
Eliminating quacks from the system is also another red sea that the Nigerian medical professionals will have to cross if they ever hope to restore trust in the system.
Nwana, who is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology pointed that Nigerian professionals were being engaged in other countries of the world, a clear indication that the country is not lacking in expertise. However, most of these professionals in the country have plans of migrating to other countries in search of greener pastures, resulting in a brain drain and instability in the system.
“For the past 12 years I have interviewed doctors and nurses, one thing common to most of them is the ultimate plan to leave the country. It is a serious problem but we cannot fault them since they want to go to countries where they think they will get better reward for their labour,” Nwana explained.
As part of the patient-centric model, Tabitha Medical Centre also operates a system where 10% of the profit is plugged back into providing pro-bono surgical services for emergency cases where the patients clearly cannot afford the entire cost.
“In this way, we are balanced because we don’t ignore that there are people that might need our services but would not be able to afford it. So, we try to help them without affecting our net profit,” he stated.
A fragmented system in need of funding
Like every other sector, the medical services sector needs funding but does not seem to be attracting any investor. Nwana explained in the show that this could be attributed to the low returns on investment in the medical sector.
“The reality is that being a good medical practitioner does not make you a good business person, and for the most part, these hospitals and medical centres are solely owned by medical professionals who are not necessarily business-savvy. After taking care of running expenses and salaries, most of them have to struggle with the profit margin,” he said.
Hospital owners should allow business management and financial experts handle the finances, and focus on delivering premium medical services, the way they know how to. Multiple taxation and illegal levies is also another clip on the wings of the medical sector, hampering their ability to scale and grow.
The fact that the businesses are mostly solely owned constrains the leaps that can be made, especially since the owners want to retain full ownership and so do not want to source funds to scale up the services. The proprietors on their part are also wary of reaching out to investors or venture capitalists, for fear of losing control over their business when these perceived ‘sharks’ step in.
This fragmented system and absence of collaboration in the sector also makes the business of medicine even more ‘unattractive’ to investors. The recent pandemic has also brought attention to the absence of data in Nigeria, and how this could be a critical problem in the system.
Even in cases of government interventions like was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the processes are cumbersome and these funds are not easy to access. With better network and collaboration in the sector, a lot more can be achieved in opening the sector up to more funding and working against those policies inhibiting growth.
Healthcare for corporate Nigeria
As a move to introduce corporate healthcare programs into corporate Nigeria, Nwana and two other partners started the Innovacare Health Systems, a physician-guided health and wellness promotion organization that creates programs for private and public institutions to promote and maintain the highest degree of physical, mental and social wellbeing of workers, and improve productivity.
Their programs take the form of health education seminars/workshops, health screenings, stress management, and personalized wellness programs.
Founded in 2014, Innovacare is keen on breaking into the corporate environment with its team of experts, but has not had a rosy journey since most corporate bodies are yet to incorporate such healthcare programs into their plans.