Medical tourism has been around through the ages and people have taken all opportunities to travel for healthcare. However, while travel for health is not a new concept or emerging trend in countries such as Germany, France or Turkey; these countries are branding, organizing and building new capacities to offer their citizens and international clientele some of the best healthcare services in the world.
To date, medical travel to the U.S. or within Asia Pacific for the latest technology, advanced clinical treatment protocols or more cost effective services has been widely publicized. This is not the case for Germany, France or Turkey.
They are among a handful of countries less well-known that are also steeped in longstanding traditions of great healthcare services, wellness and indigenous practices. They are just less well known outside of their respective geographical regions. We bring you their stories and contributions to the medical tourism industry’s global landscape.
Germany ~ Quality Comes First
Germany takes pride in offering its citizens one of the very best healthcare systems in the world. As a whole, the country’s healthcare system is highly efficient and specialized. According to Leonore Boscher, representing the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf at the 2008 World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress, “the Made in Germany brand is not just a cliché; it is in truth, a reality.” What Germany has accomplished in the auto industry with brands such as Mercedes, Audi and BMW, is in fact what they are looking to accomplish within the health care industry.
As a medical tourism destination, Germany strives to offer comparable healthcare services as that of the United States at a more competitive price. Germany as a whole is continuing to build its brand awareness as a medical tourism destination. Thomas Horster-Möller, Founder & CEO of VIVAI AG, in Germany attended this year’s Congress and commented that he was going to convince some of Germany’s famous hospitals to present their services at next year’s Congress to this end.
When looking at the inflow and outflow medical tourism market in Europe, these patterns differ significantly. Germans tend to travel abroad to countries like Spain in search of cosmetic procedures, such as breast enhancements and dental implants. Interested patients traveling to Germany are doing so for organ transplants and highly invasive diseases such as oncology treatments.
This is true for the German people as well who would not likely travel abroad for these treatments but seek care at home in light of Germany’s advanced and specialized services for these diseases. Most Germans feel that “In Germany, our system is here, in place, and our specialists are here within the country.”
It is for the elective procedures, and not the highly invasive healthcare services that Germans seek medical tourism packages in other parts of Europe. In that case, they go for an elective procedure and combine it with a nice vacation in Spain as well.
We asked Leonore Boscher to comment further about healthcare services, medical tourism and how Germany differentiates itself in this market. In her words, she stated that, “Over 99.6% of Germany’s population have access to healthcare and are insured as a part of the country’s socialized medicine policy.
For medical tourism, the International Office of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf is currently receiving 400 international patients a year who require long-term treatments. Also, we currently set 50 patients a month as our target and limit in order to control any waiting list issues.”
“We try to arrange everything for international patients. Sometimes, international patients get an appointment easier than Germans because the international department makes this possible. Also, for medical tourism, our perspective is to get more U.S. patients. In order to do so, we focus on medical quality first, and then we look for markets.
Medical quality is our major goal; our priority. We have a responsibility to the patient first and foremost. The related financial issues are a frame to medical quality. When we get interested patients here to Germany, medical decisions will drive the diagnostics, treatment and therapy,” she concluded.
Looking ahead, Germany is intent on attracting U.S. patients for bone marrow diseases, such as bone marrow transplantation. Specialists in Germany are known worldwide in this specialty for this treatment protocol and related therapeutic procedures. Other specialties available in Germany include stem cell transplantations, organ transplantations, and all types of cancer oncology treatments that require radioactive oncology or systemic oncology services.
Leonore Boscher added, “In opening up the German market of our best specialists for patients who are looking for only the best, it is our hope that this medical tourism market will continue to grow, so patients will benefit from what is available and enjoy an unsurpassed experience.
The U.S. is a big market; and we offer some huge advantages in terms of value. We are also looking at the Eastern Bloc market, especially Russia and the Soviet Union Republic. There is a small percentage of 1% in the Soviet Union Republic’s population of 240 million that can afford and may seek treatment abroad.
Turkey ~ A bridge Between Two Continents
By way of background, Turkey is bordered by eight countries and the country as a whole has a unique blend of Eastern and Western traditions. With strong historic, cultural and economic influences in the area between Europe in the west and Central Asia in the east, the former Soviet Union in the north and the Middle East in the south, Turkey is by virtue of its strategic location, a cosmopolitan bridge between two continents.
Nowhere is this more true than at Acibadem in Istanbul; one of the largest private healthcare providers in Turkey that has been providing European standards in terms of quality of care for over two decades. As a relatively old hospital group, with quite a lot of experience in health care, Acibadem is JCI accredited. From the quality of our laboratory services, to our diagnostic services, and the services provided by our project management company, we uphold high standards for our quality of healthcare services.
Having embraced medical tourism about five years ago, Acibadem Hospital is considered the newest medical hub among regional players such as Wockhardt Hospitals in India, Pyathai Hospitals in Bangkok, DHCC in Dubai and Hygiea in Greece. Ilyas Benvenyste of Acibadem hospital commented that, “International patients travel to Acibadem for neurosurgery, radiation oncology, chemotherapy, orthopedic, obstetrics and cardiovascular treatment.
Due to our geographic location in the Middle East, most of these patients originate from the former Soviet Union, United Kingdom and Netherlands. American patients tend to be U.S. citizens that are living in Turkey or working in neighboring countries as expatriates.
We evolved as a medical tourism hub when we began receiving international patients beyond our region and as a result of recognition for our leadership as a quality healthcare provider in this region. We then invested significantly in infrastructure capacity, network affiliations and accreditation protocols.
Today, Acibadem “international patient ratio has reached a steady average of 5% of our entire patient flow. According to Ilyas Benvenyste, “Our facilities include twenty one units, six hospitals and 860 beds. We are opening six new hospitals; three in 2008 and the other three in 2009. Approximately 1.5 million patients were treated in 2007, and 55,000 of them were international patients. Our goal is to increase patient volume annually by at least 40% for Acibadem.
As a tourist destination, Turkey received 17 million tourists in 2006, and with this flow of annual tourists, we are already networking with companies from the U.S. What we are looking to do is increase this level of collaboration with the U.S. Acibadem in Istanbul is set on two continents; however, Acibadem provides European standards. Our hospital standards are high, and Turkish hospitality is at the heart of those standards.”
France ~ High Quality and the Human Side of Medicine
Joie de vivre, the “joy of living” from the French is a term sometimes imported into English to express a cheerful enjoyment of life, a philosophy of life and an exultation of spirit. Nowhere is this truer as a backdrop than the context within which the medical system in France works hand in hand with excellent research centers.
Physicians in France practice in both private and academic settings simultaneously, allowing them the opportunity to serve their communities while enriching their academic institutions with their knowledge and experience.
Medicine in France is defined by its high quality of physicians, competitive research centers, quality of care provided while never forgetting the human side of medicine as well. In France, this is fundamentally important to them as they continue to build up capabilities to be able to offer these as medical tourism services to the international community at large.
According to Catherine Fritsch of The Societe d’Assistance Medicale, “We would like France to be a part of the international community of medical tourism. We think that countries working together offer the best services to patients. In our case, France has excellent private clinics and hospitals working together within the country on the basis of specialization.
Well, first of all, about medical tourism; there are very few medical tourism companies in France. We would like to further develop this market; our goal is driven by the high quality of French medicine. We have great hospitals and clinics to offer and the trip to Paris is very pleasant as well. So, we are currently striving to create an organized structure of medical tourism in France.
By way of background, the Societe d’Assistance Medicale (SAM) is a medical facilitation company that was founded in 2006 in France. Though the French government is not as of yet participating in the efforts to bring international patients into France, SAM is working with private clinics and university hospitals to establish medical tourism in France. The countries that SAM is focusing on for international patients at the moment include the United States, Russia, and the U.K.
As a leader in this nascent medical tourism industry movement in France, Ms. Fritsch also comments that, “At the moment, France will rarely pop up when you type medical tourism on a search engine on the Internet, but we are working on changing that prospect. There is an established healthcare system and structure in France; our facilities are ready to accommodate foreign patients. We have a lot to offer in this area, besides all the medical services.
And another great thing about seeking treatment in Paris is the opportunity to travel throughout Paris, once one feels better. It is quite pleasant – there are wellness centers, spas and offerings like hydrotherapy. All of these help to revive patients as they recover help them feel better, healthier, and once again, appreciate the joy of living”