The benefits and challenges of subcontracting travel assistance

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Collaboration and cost considerations

For assistance companies, selecting one or multiple partners is a rigorous process to ensure that the collaboration will be viable and successful.

“We consider factors such as reputation, reliability and price competitiveness when selecting a business to work with,” said Klingborg. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide the best possible service and experience for our customers, so we make sure to carefully vet and select businesses that meet our high standards. Travel Support has local expertise in all the countries we work in. Our operations centre is well aware of cultural differences within the countries as well as with the tourists on spot needing assistance.”

Heywood pointed out that contracting companies with local knowledge and experience can be challenging to find. “Looking for local companies with relevant certifications is helpful, but these do not exist in many countries or may not always be genuine, even when certificates of accreditation, insurance or medical licences are produced,” she said.

“To do this effectively for every country in the world requires a lot of resources, so tapping into existing networks such as the IAG is far more cost-effective, particularly for access to locations where the assistance company may only have a handful of cases or less per year. With a detailed selection process, certified to ISO 9001, our members can be assured that  all of our local agents have been through a rigorous vetting process and are regularly audited and assessed against agreed SLAs (service level  agreements),” she added.

Assistance companies aren’t prepared to compromise on quality and so a  potential partnership must be perfectly  aligned with the organisation’s goals.

“The key to assistance is managing the clinical quality and member experience,” underlined Carol Foley, Co-Founder of Fairmount International. “Subcontracting to carefully curated specialist partners can work well, as long as the owner of the case leverages their partner’s specialist knowledge but maintains control of the clinical quality and member experience.”

While prioritising traveller safety and quality of experience, there is a necessary eye on cost containment and, by contracting assistance, it is possible to save on costs, as well as augmenting efficiency.

“Often, by using a local company, the traveller can be treated under their local agreements and payment terms, which can be much cheaper than the international patient rate charged if the company deals directly with the facility,” said Heywood.

“Some facilities will simply not invoice or accept payments from a foreign entity, and, in that situation, the traveller must pay and claim – as long as the facility will accept a credit card. Travellers expect a seamless service and it is much easier to have a local agent to settle the bills in the local currency. This can also expedite the patient discharge and save some fees for prolonged stays due to waiting for wired payments to arrive.”

A local network with global benefits

In addition to the myriad benefits associated with subcontracting assistance, there are associated challenges and considerations for assistance companies too. Besides finding the right provider, these include maintaining consistency and quality of services across the board, ensuring effective communication and coordination with subcontractors, and regularly reviewing subcontractor performance. This is where

strong quality assurance mechanisms and performance standards play a critical role

. When managed correctly, the relationship between an assistance company and subcontractor can prove invaluable and elevate services.

“We have an extensive network of providers to reach out to and, with good communication between us internally as well as with providers, we trust that we know the best option for every case,” stated Klingborg.

Whether or not an assistance company decides to subcontract assistance, the benefits of a local network of providers are far-reaching. “In many countries with world-class medical systems and good English skills, many assistance companies can work directly with the hospitals without the need for local subcontractors,” said Heywood. “However, there still can be advantages in engaging local expertise, for example to pool cases and to benefit from lower negotiated fees or rebates based on pooled volumes. Whether it is subcontracting or collaborating, it makes sense to have a local network that can help when it is needed,” she concluded.

This article originally appeared in

Assistance & Repatriation Review | April 2024

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