A few years ago, Katelyn O'Shaughnessy was vacationing in
Ireland when she fell, cut her knee and had to get stitches at the hospital.
When the bill came, it was only $30.
"I couldn't believe how cheap it was," O'Shaughnessy
After that, she started researching medical tourism.
"I saw it as not only a fast-growing, untapped market
but also a viable option for Americans who simply couldn't afford the
healthcare being offered here," she said.
Enter Doctours, O'Shaughnessy's startup, which connects
patients with doctors and clinics abroad for medical procedures. It pays
agents 5% commission when a client books a medical procedure.
Other medical tourism facilitators exist, but O'Shaughnessy
said Doctours' unique offering is its business-to-business component for travel
She's no stranger to the agency community. O'Shaughnessy was
the founder of itinerary management app TripScope, which was sold to Travefy in
2017. In fact, it was while she still owned TripScope that she noticed the
trend of Americans interested in going abroad for medical procedures.
Each day, she would review itineraries agents sent to their
clients. Sometimes they had holes. She would reach out to the agent to offer
them a heads up, but found the holes were intentional.
"They'd be like, 'Oh, well, actually they're going to
be in the hospital those two days,'" O'Shaughnessy said.
It kept coming up so often that O'Shaughnessy herself worked
as an agent, facilitating medical tourism for awhile after selling TripScope.
"I built this network of doctors and was able to get a
commission on the medical procedures," she said. "And I was like, 'Whoa!
This is a lot of money, much more than I'm making with these hotels.' So from
there, I just grew it."
Doctours operates at both a business-to-consumer and
business-to-business level. Consumers can visit its website and
enter the medical procedure they want (Doctours offers 330). A list of doctors
who perform the procedure pops up, as does pricing; O'Shaughnessy said
transparent pricing is important.
For example, a search for a hip replacement brought up four
doctors, three based in Mexico and one in Croatia. Their prices ranged from
$7,900 to $22,000. The search results also list how many hip replacements each
doctor has performed and the languages they speak.
Consumers can contact the doctor or click a link to his or
her profile, which includes details on education and background, information
about their hospital (including pictures) and more.
"We don't take just any doctor," O'Shaughnessy
said. "They have to go through a very strict process to be on our
platform, so people can then have access and know, 'OK, this is a doctor who
checks out,' and I feel a little bit more confident in their decision to travel
All agents can work with Doctours, she said. They can be as
involved as they or their client want -- potentially sending the client a list
of the doctors who perform a procedure -- or they can simply hand clients off
to Doctours. Either way, they will get a 5% commission on the procedure
(Doctours takes its own cut for performing the service, but agents always get
"I'm glad we can make it transparent and make it
accessible [to agents]," O'Shaughnessy said of medical tourism. "That's
really what we want to do -- and make the travel agents money. I'm always
looking out for travel agents."
Medical tourism has traditionally been an area most agents
have shied away from because of the potential liability issues it presents.
However, Doctours has limited liability because it is simply facilitating the
connection between doctor and patient, O'Shaughnessy said.
"We do pre-vet [doctors], so we do everything in our
power to mitigate any risks," she said. "But with that said, ... when
we're connecting the two, we never recommend, we never diagnose."
Doctours does have employees who are knowledgeable in
healthcare and can walk patients through what they might expect with certain
procedures. For example, the company's chief medical officer is a doctor. But
at the end of the day, Doctours simply facilitates medical travel.
Industry lawyer Mark Pestronk, also Travel Weekly's Legal
Briefs columnist, said O'Shaughnessy's model holds up legally.
"The way to look at the issue is this: Are there court
precedents that establish a duty of care for companies that simply give out
doctors' contact info?" he said in an email. "I have never heard of
such a precedent, so I would say that the answer is that it flies from a legal
To date, Doctours has facilitated more than 500 medical
procedures. The most popular at the moment are stem cell treatments, which are
not available in the U.S., for everyone from professional athletes to people
with Parkinson's disease. She estimated those treatments cost $12,000 to
$50,000. Breast augmentations, running around $7,000, are also big sellers.
Medical travelers save anywhere from 30% to 80% on
procedures compared with U.S. prices, O'Shaughnessy said.
Mexico is the top destination because of its proximity to
the U.S. Medical travel to Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia, Panama
and Costa Rica, is also popular.
Medical tourism presents agents with a number of
opportunities. For one, the sector is growing. Citing the American Journal of
Medicine, O'Shaughnessy said that in 2017, an estimated 1.4 million Americans
traveled internationally for medical care. That is expected to rise by 25% this
And travelers who are receiving medical procedures tend to
stay in a destination longer than the average leisure traveler, according to O'Shaughnessy,
leading to higher commissions on hotels. The average trip length is one to four
weeks, and their spend is four to six times greater than that of a typical
"There is a huge opportunity for the travel industry to
get a piece of this pie," she said.
O'Shaughnessy plans to continue to grow Doctours.
"Really, what we see is essentially being the market
leader in the American market for medical tourism," she said. "Think
of us like an Angie's List, where instead of searching for a plumber, you're
finding doctors. When people think medical tourism, I want them to think