About Katelyn O’Shaughnessy
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy is an award-winning travel agent and entrepreneur who created travel companies, TripScope and Doctours.
Featured on Forbes’ 2016 30 Under 30 list, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy is the CEO & Founder of the medical tourism company, Doctours. Driven by the current climate of the U.S. healthcare system, Katelyn has utilized her expertise in the travel space to develop a platform that connects tourism to healthcare. Doctours delivers an online marketplace of top-accredited doctors from around the world, allowing patients to gain access to the medical offerings and cost savings available in the international market.
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy began her career as an award winning travel agent, turned entrepreneur. She was the former CEO & Founder of the travel app and website, TripScope. TripScope was a Portfolio Company at the nationally ranked accelerator, Amplify, where Katelyn was the first female founder to be accepted into the program. She was recognized as Forbes 30 Under 30, LA Business Journal’s 20 in their 20’s, and had a successful exit when TripScope was acquired in 2017.
Katelyn serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cornell University with the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship. She is a popular speaker at various travel and tech conferences, and is widely quoted in consumer media as a highly regarded travel expert.
Doctours makes it easy to find treatment abroad. They provide you with all the information needed to find a medical provider, to get your questions answered, and to arrange your treatment.
The interactive online healthcare platform allows patients to gain access to the medical offerings and costs available in the international market.
Transparent pricing and in-depth doctor profiles allow patients to easily search, compare and book the medical treatment they desire, all while saving them anywhere from 30-80% on medical costs.
From new and innovative cancer treatments, to nose jobs and knee replacements, Doctours covers the whole spectrum of medical tourism by being an online marketplace of international doctors, as well as a full-service travel agency, sending patients all over the world.
Medical Travel Today (MTT): Are you a traditional medical travel facilitator working with patients or do you consider yourself to be a third party administrator?
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy (KO): I used to be a luxury travel agent, so that’s my area of expertise, the travel industry. By age 25, I was one of the top producing travel agents across America, so I have deep industry expertise in that field.
Doctours is actually my second company. When I was 26, I developed a travel app and website called TripScope, which was an itinerary management solution.
At Doctours we offer all the services of a traditional medical travel facilitator, but make it accessible and easy to navigate on our online portal. We then coordinate every aspect of the patients medical journey by providing them with the best options for flights, hotels, transfers, and tours that meet their individual needs and budget.
MTT: Can you tell
our readers more about TripScope?
KO: For TripScope, the travel agents used the agent portal on the website to aggregate all of the reservation confirmations from the different booking platforms that they were using. They then sent it out through interactive mobile apps. So, the actual consumer would download the TripScope app, and the two parties could connect and push out different information.
I grew that business and ran it for four years. At that time, we had three-quarters of all American-based travel agents using TripScope to create their itineraries. As you can imagine, we had a ton of data.
It was there that
I discovered that people were traveling abroad for healthcare. I just kept
seeing this trend, and I would reach out to the travel agent saying, “Hey,
did you help facilitate this?” They would respond, “No, they found
the doctor. I just do the flights and hotels around it.”
This kept happening. So, I started researching it more and more. My company TripScope got acquired in February 2017 and I immediately started Doctours, which is based out of Los Angeles.
I took a travel agent approach to it and I still had my huge network of travel agents. I started with my doctors down in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo and began with minimally invasive procedures just to test the market.
MTT: Can you tell us more about the start of Doctours?
KO: I’d ask my agents. “Do you know any clients traveling to these areas in Mexico?” I suggested they add some services as an add-on to their trip.
The travel agents would tell clients, “While you’re there, here’s a doctor that can do Botox, or fillers, or a dental cleaning.” We focused on simple noninvasive procedures.
I wanted to show three things:
- First, that travel agents could actually sell this.
- Second, I never white-labeled it. It said this service is provided by Doctours so we could get the word out about our offerings.
- Third, I wanted to turn on these travelers to the idea of getting familiar with getting medical treatment done while on vacation.
I did that for the first nine months, just testing my product’s market fit, and I saw a 12 percent conversion rate of the clients.
MTT: What sort of
procedures were clients interested in getting?
KO: They’d go down there just for noninvasive procedures. They would hear about us, and then they’d come back directly to us at our site. They’d say, “You know what? I’ve always wanted to have a nose job.” Or, “I’m thinking of an eyelid lift.”
Plastic surgery and dental were my go-to’s. After a couple of years, we started evolving based on what consumers were requesting. As clients requested new procedures, our network grew, and we connected with different types of doctors and expanded into various countries, as well.
MTT: Besides elective procedures like Botox, for example, what are the procedures people have done?
KO: The most popular procedure is in vitro fertilization (IVF). I think it is the most popular because it’s so expensive in the United States.
In the US, it’s about $20 to $25,000 per round, and that’s out of pocket because it’s not covered by insurance. If a teacher only makes $30 to $40,000 annually, they can’t afford to do that. That’s when they go and have it done in Mexico or Latin America.
Stem cell has also
been very popular. Everyone’s getting stem cell for arthritis and we also work
with many professional and college athletes looking for stem cell procedures to
help with injuries and get them ready in the offseason. That demographic is huge.
The other popular procedures people are traveling for are LASIK and bariatric surgery.
MTT: In the Forbes interview you mentioned Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand. How do you learn about international hospitals?
KO: I’ve traveled all over the world and Bumrungrad in Thailand is well known.
I’ve watched all the documentaries on it, and people in this industry have been very kind. Other medical tourism facilitators who have been doing this, even while I was still in high school, have reached out and offered to help connect me.
I also used my travel industry networks, so I go through the tourism boards. That’s been really helpful to me because I have those relationships.
accounts for 16 percent of the overall income generated by the tourism industry
globally. Working with the tourism boards and hotels helps us access and get
our foot in the door with the top doctors and hospitals. It’s very much about
your relationships and that takes you a long way.
MTT: How would the patients find out about Bumrungrad? Would the travel agent tell them and what would prompt them to fly so far for a procedure?
KO: Yes, I have two different models.
I work with travel agents who sell Doctour’s medical offerings to their clients. They not only coordinate noninvasive procedures, but they also help people plan around their travel. We provide them with a curated list of accredited doctors from around the world, and then they bring it to the client.
So, it’s a win-win partnership, but also your average consumer can come to doctours.co, type in the medical procedure or the destination that they’re interested in. Then we provide a curated list of doctors or procedures.
Then from there,
you can filter down the results based on your needs. Then click and choose
which ones you’re interested in, and set up consultations, and see the pricing.
MTT: Do you think that people would fly as far as to Thailand, or would they want to go closer to home? I know that Bumrungrad introduced prescription travel. What is your outlook on that?
KO: I have a patient right now, getting stem cell on both of her knees. She lives on a border state here in the US. I said, “Okay, well, Mexico has some great stem cells.” She said, “No, no, no, no. I want to make this a vacation. That’s what I like about this is the idea that I could wrap together a great vacation with this procedure.”
I asked her top choices to travel and she said Jamaica and Thailand were the only two she wanted to consider.
She’s doing this for the travel aspect, but she also really wants to have this procedure done. She’s gone to a local doctor here who recommended a stem cell procedure and then she reached out to me.
The prices are very good in Thailand so that can also offset the higher price tag on the flights. Also, the hotels are very cheap, so we do provide both because it’s not just about the cost of the procedure. All the logistics of getting there, and how you’re going to be set up, and all of that is coordinated.
MTT: Do you find that many clients are traveling for both a vacation and a medical procedure?
KO: I think everyone is kind of open to different things. Some people will travel just for a particular doctor because the physician is a specialist in what they do. For others it’s about the destination or just solely about the costs, just whatever they can afford. There are just different demographics of people.
Stem cells can range anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $100,000, depending on what you’re getting. So, these people have different budgets but want to stay in four and five-star hotels.
For plastic surgery, some clients just like the anonymity of it all because they don’t want to go have their facelifts done at the local plastic surgeon. They’re going to say they’re going on a vacation and then come back two weeks later. They want people to say, “Wow you look so refreshed, that vacation really did you well.” Everyone has different motives.
Mommy makeovers are another big one. Women who have given birth often want a tummy tuck and a breast lift or augmentation. There’s that guilt where if they have the surgery done they will be laid up in bed and unable to get up and take care of their kids, let alone cook meals for them. So many choose to have the procedure done abroad. We set them up at all-inclusive resorts that have 24-hour “nanny care” built-in and child services. Then their child gets a vacation as well. Mom is relaxed that the kids are fed and cared for all day and she doesn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning. Mom can just relax and recover from surgery guilt-free.
different motives for everyone using this type of service.
MTT: Are you familiar at all with the opportunities to leave the country? I know Mexico and Thailand have programs where you can get medications that you wouldn’t be able to get in the United States because the cost is so prohibitive, for Hep C, for example.
KO: I am.
prescription drugs here are crazy expensive. We have to be very careful about
the way we market it because of the current opioid crisis. I just don’t want
people taking advantage or obtaining / abusing drugs they don’t really need.
MTT: Do you have standards that you adhere to for the hospitals or the doctors that you recommend?
KO: We do a strict vetting process.
We partner primarily with JCI accredited hospitals. We try to work directly with doctors, so all the doctors are English speaking and most of them are Western-trained, here in the US. They have similar credentials that you would find from your local doctor.
Then we also work
with the insurance companies, do our due diligence to see if there’s any
We physically travel to and meet with many of our doctors and hospitals just to do our own site inspection to see and make sure that the quality is up to standards. We need to feel comfortable about sending patients to them. Again, the relationships are very important.
MTT: Do you get
any push back on the issue of malpractice, and the opportunity to have recourse
in case of a less than optimal outcome?
KO: Yes. I have three different lawyers that I work with that know medical tourism and know the laws.
We offer medical
tourism insurance to ensure that they’re protected. We make every one of our
patients sign up, and check the box — yes or no.
MTT: How much is that insurance? Is that costly?
KO: Yes, but luckily, I’ve raised a good amount of money from venture capitalists. So, we are a venture-backed, and we were very fortunate to have money to afford to do that. So, it’s not a mom and pop operation.
MTT: How is a
medical tourism business different than other businesses?
KO: It’s not just that you’re selling a product or a vacation to Hawaii.
You have to
educate the patient on the doctor, the procedure, and how it’s going to work
having this done. We have to take away any stress or anxiety. Just help them
feel comfortable and confident about this decision while also making sure that
they’re the ones making the decision.
Also, there’s just such a stigma, too. The people that already are medical tourists think, “Wow, this is amazing! Why doesn’t everybody do this?” It’s changing, primarily Americans’ behaviors. It’s getting them to try this out, and then understand the value. Then the light bulb goes off.
It’s all about educating the consumer that it is a safe alternative and can save you a ton of money. This is our focus.
MTT: Doctours is a direct-to-the-consumer model, correct? Do you deal at all with employers?
KO: Yes, we do work with self-insured employers.
We have a several companies that we work with. Even my travel agents offer Doctours medical network to their corporate travel clients and they’ve been very happy with the cost savings it’s allowed.
We leverage that
network and implement the medical travel into their benefits package. Some
companies even incentivize their employees to choose traveling for procedures
by giving them extra vacation days.
MTT: Are those companies mostly on the West Coast, or are they all over the country?
KO: They’re all over the country.
MTT: How do you get the word out to prospective clients that medical travel is an option for them?
KO: I’m so excited to finally bring medical tourism to the masses and modernize the model so it’s accessible to people.
We have a show that we produce and it will follow individual clients and doctors. We will show peoples’ stories because they’re so compelling. It can be people from all walks of life and their reasoning for medical travel.
This allows others
to physically see the facilities and just how beautiful and clean they are.
MTT: Can you tell the readers more about the TV show?
KO: It’s called Prescription to Travel. We don’t only work with the consumers and bring them in, but we also partner with the hospitals and the doctors as well to showcase their expertise.
MTT: What are some
other ways you reach out to clients?
We have a database of over half a million
American travelers. I know where they traveled to, how much they spent, their
age, where they are in life. So, we can do targeted marketing.
I can see, for example, if a family travels to Cancun every spring and then they also go to Mexico City once a year in the winter. We can send very good directed email marketing to certain demographics of people and feature the doctors.
And then also use our platform with the press that we’ve been getting to plug certain doctors, and facilities and their medical treatments.
So, we can help bring them new business. It’s been working out really well. So, it’s a win-win for both the patient and the doctor.
MTT: Could you guess how many patients you travel for medical travel a year?
KO: It’s over a thousand right now.