Coffee with Cassandra Italia of TopDocs
Last week I had coffee with Cassandra Italia, Founder of TopDocs. One of their specialties is helping people find plastic surgeons abroad. TopDocs is also in Batch 20 of 500 Startups as part of their digital health accelerator. As we got to know each other over coffee, I realized there's a lot to learn about the medical tourism industry.
What is Medical Tourism?
Medical tourism, or health tourism, refers to people traveling to a country other than their own to get medical treatment. Medical tourism is a global, multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, its market size is estimated to be at least $45 billion. As you might imagine, the U.S. is a massive medical tourism market, both for inbound and outbound treatments. In other words, in addition to huge numbers of non-citizens coming to the U.S. to get treatments, there are large numbers of U.S. residents flying abroad to get treatments as well.
Medical Tourism AgentsMedical tourism agents are a vital part of the medical tourism industry. They bring together prospective patients with a service provider, usually a hospital or a clinic. These agents are generally facilitators of medical tourism, which means they deal with issues that don't typically apply when a patient stays within their own country. These would include:
- Prices and how to pay
- Hotels accommodations
- Non-medical risks involved
- Language issues
- Availability of techniques
- Pre-travel health issues (e.g, malaria shots for travel to Thailand)
- HIPAA Compliance (only required by law in the U.S.)
Medical Tourism Runs Over Email
"Medical tourism runs over the email," is one of the first things Cassandra said as we sat down for coffee. The aforementioned medical tourism agents act as middlemen between hospitals or healthcare facilities and the patients seeking treatment. Those agents typically take a commission to make sure the patient gets the treatment they desire in a foreign country. This means reaching out several hospitals (oftentimes more than three) and sending patient healthcare records to each of them. If there's a match, then there's more email back and forth between the agent, the patient and the hospital. At each email exchange, there's sensitive PHI going back and forth. Here's the kicker: Hospitals everywhere are not encrypting those emails and neither are the medical tourism agents.
Cassandra started TopDocs to automate and systemize the Medical Tourism market. Having been in the business over nine years, she has deep industry experience on how to improve the market. One method of improvement is building a trusted platform where patients, agents and hospitals can efficiently conduct business. Although HIPAA compliance is not a legal requirement in their current target market, HIPAA is seen worldwide as the industry standard for patient data security. Having access to the Paubox Email API would be a big marketing win for TopDocs.
Medical Tourism in Thailand
During our coffee, I also learned Thailand is the world's #1 medical tourism destination. Cassandra says Thai hospitals look like a Hilton. The patient experience there is crafted to feel like a stay at the Ritz Carlton. As such, Cassandra and TopDocs are based in Bangkok. They have several big pilots underway and we look forward to working with them.
SEE RELATED: Our #500Strong Digital Health Network in SF
Cassandra met some of our Paubox team (Greg Hoffman)