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Turkey Emerging as Medical Tourist Destination

Posted on Sep 30, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

Turkey may finally be realizing its potential as an important international healthcare center. Annual revenue for the Turkish medical tourism industry is expected to pass US$5 billion within 5 years, as the country's modern hospital and spa facilities begin to attract a growing number of foreign patients who are seeking cost-effective medical treatment from all over the world. The rising healthcare costs in developed Western countries coupled with the continued progress and flattening of the global economy has encouraged many people to now venture abroad for more cost effective destinations when seeking medical treatment, a practice now widely known as medical tourism. These macroeconomic factors combined with the falling costs of travel and communication have enabled world class healthcare facilities to establish themselves all around the world. International clients seeking alternative healthcare solutions to what is available in their home countries are now presented with many opportunities at competitive prices. Popular locations for medical travel include countries in South East Asia and Latin America, where many surgery procedures, including transplants and cosmetic procedures, cost a fraction of the price they would do in North America or Western Europe, and usually can offer shorter waiting times for treatment overall as well. The convenience and efficiency of pursuing international medical tourism options is something to be considered for patients seeking to fully evaluate their future health procedures. According to a recent study conducted by the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Central Bank, the number of tourists coming to the country specifically for healthcare and wellbeing purposes has risen consistently over the past few years. In 2003 there were 103,400 tourists that received medical treatment in Turkey, spending an estimated US$91 million in the process. That number then increased to 162,480 tourists spending US$282 million in 2008 although it fell slightly in 2009 to 132,680 medical tourists at US$225 million. The latest estimates for 2010 are at around 165,000 tourists, which would now rank Turkey as the tenth most popular health tourism destination in the world. Inbound medical tourists have largely hailed from Germany, the Netherlands, France and the Balkans, which are all areas with a large Turkish Diaspora. There was also a noted increase in patients hailing from the Middle East, who have begun to prefer Turkey to Europe. Among these reported foreign patients, around 94 percent were treated in private facilities where the eye, brain surgery, orthopedic and cardiology departments attracted the largest number of patients. The growth in Turkey's medical tourism sector has been driven primarily by the comparative price advantages it holds over several key neighboring healthcare markets. In Turkey, fees for certain medical procedures can range from one-half to potentially as little as one-fifth the price in Europe and other industrialized countries. For example, the average price for a heart valve replacement in Turkey is $16,950 while it costs US$58,250 in the United States, US$25,000 in the UK and US$47,794 in Switzerland. In addition to this cost advantage, Turkey's prime geographical location between Europe, the Middle East and Asia is a convenience, making it more accessible to a wide range of potential travelers. Furthermore, as a European Union candidate, the country has been forced to upgrade its health system to meet EU standards and now features high-quality hospital infrastructure with an abundance of well-trained staff well versed in a number of foreign languages. All of this combined with favorable US dollar exchange rates, suitable climactic conditions, and bountiful tourist attractions, add up to make Turkey a medical tourism destination with considerable potential Turkey's private healthcare industry has worked hard in the past decade to capitalize on this international medical tourism market potential, particularly in the provinces of Istanbul, Kayseri, Adana and Gaziantep, which attract the largest number of foreign patients. Turkey now hosts 556 private hospitals, each competing feverishly with one another for foreign clients. Furthermore, the national government has plans to upgrade a share of the country's 833 publicly-run hospitals to accommodate foreign patients as well. International investors are also becoming aware of this opportunity and looking to invest in the country's private healthcare market. Parkway Holdings, Fortis Healthcare International and Life Healthcare Group are among the top international hospital chains interested in establishing a presence in Turkey. Despite these promising growth indicators, Turkey's medical tourism industry still has several challenges to overcome if it wishes to compete amongst the world's most popular medical tourism destinations, like India or Malaysia. Industry analysts have cited a lack of cooperation between state and private sector players as a key impediment to further developing the medical tourism sector. Without a more integrated national approach, Turkey has been unable to either effectively market its prime medical assets abroad or improve upon the number of qualified healthcare professionals working in the system at present. Another disadvantage Turkey currently faces is with its cumbersome legal system. Foreign patients generally have little legal recourse in Turkey. As it stands, it is incredibly difficult to win a lawsuit for medical malpractice under Turkish law. The protracted legal process usually required to conduct a case leaves many plaintiffs out of pocket even if they win damages. Visa requirements can further complicate matters and present further logistical and expense issues if the plaintiff is forced to leave a country before their case is concluded. In the rare case that a plaintiff has succeeded, compensation has been relatively minimal. These issues need to be resolved because Turkey's international healthcare business continues to grow; more questions about the regulation of medical tourism in the country are sure to arise. Turkey's medical tourism market is currently worth around US$500 million, but its potential is far greater.
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