Why do medical tourists choose Turkey as a medical tourism destination?

Turkey has the highest number of JCI-accredited healthcare institutions in the world.

Turkey is presently recognized as a competitive and high-technology healthcare destination treating thousands of foreign patients from Europe and neighboring countries every month.

Close to 60 internationally competitive medical faculties training thousands of Turkish and foreign medical students and high certification standards for physicians ensure successful medical results in a wide variety of specialties.

The culturally vibrant atmosphere in metropolitan Turkish cities provides a friendly and safe environment for patients and spouses to fully recuperate.

The incredibly central geographical location of Turkey at a crossroad between Europe and Asia allows for easy access and short flying times to every destination in the world.

Turkey is an EU candidate country currently fulfilling membership criteria ensuring high and consistent standards in healthcare.

Reliable quotes and consistent prices are the norm.

All accredited Turkish hospitals are outfitted with world-class infrastructure and modern technology.

Almost all major pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Merck, Novartis, Roche, and Astra Zeneca are present in Turkey with regional headquarters and manufacturing facilities as well as many local manufacturers.

A reliable supply of blood is provided by Kızılay (the Turkish Red Crescent) which is a JCI-accredited organization.

Turkey is one of the world’s top 10 medical tourism destinations, welcoming more than three hundred thousand health tourists every year. Also, it’s modern enough to be comfortable yet traditional enough to be interesting.

Do Not Go Far Away

Turkey has a destination that can be reached by plane from many countries in a short time.

Latest Technology Hospitals

In Turkey hospital’s quality has been approved. With well-trained doctors, nurses, and staff, high technology hospitals Turkey is a shining star in medical tourism. Furthermore, Turkey has 44 hospitals that have been accredited by JCI.

No Problem with Communication

Turkey’s health sector has a very well-educated and trained staff. Thanks to English-speaking doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff you will not have communication problems.

Fit Your Budget

Turkey has low costs when compared to Europe. The costs are less than ¼ for most of the medical services. Besides, there is no waiting list in Turkey.

Smiling Faces

In Turkey, hospitality is an integral part of the Turkish culture. With smiling faces everywhere you will feel at home.

Safe & Healthy

In Turkey, patient rights and patient safety are important issues. Thus the case that was opened because of malpractice was almost nonexistent.

Turkish Airlines Medical Tourism Support Package

The medical tourism market in the world has been rapidly growing in recent years. To increase the share of Turkish healthcare care establishments in the market and support the national economy, Turkish Airlines has prepared a support package for Health Care Establishments that invest in medical tourism.

Protocols have already been signed with the majority of healthcare establishments in Medical Tourism. The package offers special discounts and incentives for those who come to Turkey for medical treatment purposes.

• Travel from other countries to Turkey: 20% discount (1) on first and business class system fares, 15% discount (1) on comfort class system fares, and 10% discount (1) on economy class system fares will be applied(2)

• 10kg excess luggage allowance (3) will be issued.

• No rebooking penalty if the rebooking is required because of medical complications(4)

• Maximum 2 companions traveling with the patient are entitled to the same discounts and rights.

Procedures:

Passengers traveling for medical purposes are required to present an acceptance letter made by the receiving Health Care Establishment that signed the protocol with Turkish Airlines. (Patients traveling from the USA are also allowed for the discount by presenting a referral letter from a Health Care Establishment in the USA). Discounts are only applied at Turkish Airlines offices unless otherwise specified.

(1) Discounts cannot be combined with other discounts. No discounts on promotional fares. No discount for a stretcher.

(2) Flights must be TK only. Code share flights are not included.

(3) Piece concept (such as USA to Turkey): 2Pc, 32Kg per piece maximum luggage allowance on Turkish Airlines operated flights only.

(4) Passengers will be charged if the upgrade is necessary or other fees are required.

TURKEY’S MEDICAL TOURISM POTENTIAL

Medical tourism, regarded as a sub-category of health tourism, signifies activities that combine health care with economical, short vacations. The rapid expansion and growth of the medical industry due to globalization, the problems related to health systems in some countries (for example, long waiting periods, increasing costs, and dissatisfaction with the quality of service), the increasing awareness of consumers of treatment alternatives, and the dynamics affecting the healthcare industry such as conditions in the European Union (EU), should all be considered in the concept and development of both vacation and treatment elements.

Health tourism, which is divided into three branches, namely, healthcare tourism, tourists’ health, and medical tourism, is an industry that is increasing in importance. It has been providing employment and contributing on a serious scale to the economies of the countries in which it is being practiced. While the first two types of health tourism have long been practiced in many countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and in some Caribbean countries, medical tourism only started to be organized in the early 1980s.

To date, the majority of medical tourists have been visiting countries that offer health services of first-rate quality but at lower costs. In these regions, many options such as tour programs are offered in the manner of sightseeing tours, shopping, discovery tours, and even sunbathing tours and excursions. The industry has grown rapidly and the establishments and the countries that provide these health services have already started to arrange for specialized services catering specifically to medical tourists.

In this study, we will delineate the opportunities of medical tourism in Turkey, along with its weak and strong aspects. We will elucidate how medical tourism can contribute to strengthening the country’s economy as well as providing high levels of employment, as we determine goals and objectives for the industry on the international level.

Dimensions of the Worldwide Medical Tourism Industry

Medical tourism has expanded its scope to reach large-scale proportions in the 21st century. Over the past years, individuals from advanced and developed countries such as the USA have been traveling to India, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Singapore, Hungary, Turkey, and Costa Rica to seek medical attention. Complicated surgeries and dental work, kidney dialysis, cosmetic surgery, and organ transplants topped the list of the most sought-after procedures. It was estimated that in 2002, six hundred thousand medical tourists traveled to Thailand to seek treatment at medical centers in Bangkok and Phuket, while approximately one hundred and fifty thousand foreign patients visited India during that time. Today, India is leading the countries that have been enjoying the greatest portion of benefits resulting from the world’s interest in health tourism. An increase of 30% has been observed annually in the growth rate of the health industry in India, and the income generated from health tourism is expected to reach two billion euros by the year 2012. The main reason for this popularity is that they had foreseen the potential of this tourism long before the other countries; as well, they had been able to operate with low costs and to make efficient presentations and advertisements about their capabilities. Thailand and Singapore should also be considered among those that have received greater shares of the health tourism market. Thailand received one hundred and thirty thousand patients in its Bumrunghad Hospital in the year 2003 and was able to pay for 25% of its health budget through the revenue received from these patients. Singapore had set an objective to welcome one million medical tourists by the year 2007.

Eastern European countries that have been trying to reconcile rapidly with the facts of the capitalist world have also started to benefit from health tourism, by utilizing their European Union (EU) memberships, coupled with their low labor costs. Hungary has obtained an input of two million euros, which enables it to be among the shining stars of the health tourism industry. On the other hand, Belgium has found a significant place in the industry by offering aesthetic surgery and obesity treatments.

The major reason why medical tourism is so attractive to many people is that it offers treatments at a comparatively low cost. To begin with, there are an estimated 50 million people without health insurance and 120 million without dental coverage” in the United States. If these people require urgent health care, they are obliged to pay their health expenses in cash or by applying for bank loans.

Medical tourists are generally residents of the industrialized nations of the world. They primarily come from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Western Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. However, more and more people from many other parts of the world are seeking out places where they can both enjoy a vacation and obtain medical treatment at a reasonable price. A myriad of options exists for medical tourists, from purely elective procedures such as rhinoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation, orthodontics, and LASIK to more serious and life-saving procedures such as joint replacements, bone marrow transplants, and cardiac bypass surgery. Medical tourists can now obtain essentially any type of medical or surgical procedure abroad safely and effectively for a fraction of the cost that they would face in their home countries. Large price disparities exist across the board for numerous medical and surgical procedures. The cost savings are enormous. For example, a couple can obtain a hair implant operation as well as enjoy the natural and historic beauty of Turkey, inclusive of airfare, board, lodging, and a personal tour guide/concierge, for the price of the same operation in their home country in Europe.

Another major appeal of medical tourism is that people can get medical treatments abroad in less time than it would take in their home countries. In developed countries, the public healthcare system is so overburdened that it can take years to get needed care. Frederick J. DeMicco further remarks that, &”in Britain and Canada, the waiting period for a hip replacement can be a year or more, while in Bangkok or Bangalore, a patient can be in the operating room the morning after getting off a plane”.

Opportunities for Turkey in the Medical Health Industry

European countries, like the rest of the Western World, are faced with some major health problems: an aging population, the decreasing working hours of health personnel, the increasing workforce population in comparison with the retired population, chronic disorders, the rapidly increasing health costs, and long waiting periods that delay and complicate the treatment process.

Various European countries have altered their health policies due to existing economic problems, excluding health services such as dental treatments, aesthetic operations, eye surgery with excimer laser, and green light prostate surgery from insurance coverage. For these reasons, Europeans have started to seek their treatments in countries where the health service fees are relatively lower. In particular, Central European countries benefit from the services provided by Eastern European countries. However, Turkey has become an alternative among those countries, especially with the currently decreasing costs of airfare. Some European countries welcome rich tourists to their countries and provide treatments at higher charges while sending their insured patients to safe countries where the health service costs are lower. In reality, however, their waiting periods are much longer.

There is great potential for health tourism in Turkey, with around 20 million tourists visiting Turkey each year, 4.5 million Turkish people living abroad, and thousands of foreigners residing in Turkey. Furthermore, Turkish people living abroad have communication problems with foreign doctors and health personnel. Failure or difficulties in expressing themselves and their health problems to the doctors abroad are the most important reasons why they prefer to return to Turkey for health services. Another reason why they prefer Turkey’s health services is that the quality and scope of health services in Turkey are equal to those found abroad. First- and second-generation Turkish people living abroad keep close ties with their motherland, and they are not able to establish integration with the foreign society they are living in. These factors exert a great impact on their increasing feelings of homesickness, along with the increase in their ages and the diseases that afflict them. For these reasons, they frequently return to visit Turkey and stay for months. It has become obligatory for European insurance companies to cooperate with the hospitals in Turkey, especially for cases of HT, diabetes, chronic kidney failure, and for follow-up procedures for other chronic diseases. In other words, the hospitals in Turkey will inevitably provide not only emergency health services to these people but also other routine and elective health services. Otherwise, insurance companies may think that they would be encountering greater health expenses.

Aside from this, our consanguine living in the Balkans, the Middle Eastern countries, and the lands covered by the former Ottoman Empire also wish to benefit from Turkish medicine as long as their financial status permits them. After the attacks of 9/11, people from Middle Eastern and African countries with high financial abilities are no longer able to travel to the Western countries where they used to visit, due to stringent visa and security regulations. They are actively searching for alternative places where they can receive treatment. For instance, the total amount spent by African patients for treatment abroad is around 17 billion US dollars. Nigerians alone spent one billion US dollars for treatments abroad.

Turkey receives patients mainly from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Kosovo and Syria. Turkey is preferred mostly for eye, dental, prostate, and fertility operations. When we evaluate the state of our medical tourism in terms of contributions from Turkish citizens living in Europe, the variety of the services provided has been very high, as shown by annual economic earnings that have yielded more than 100 million euros thus far.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Turkey’s Health Industry

Turkey holds a promising position for a bright future in medical tourism. Many improvements have been recorded in the health aspects of the country, which has been advancing on the road to full membership in the European Union. For one, the number of hospitals that provide health services by EU standards has increased rapidly. For about 10 years now, the technological infrastructure, as well as the comfort and quality of services of the hospitals in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, have been on the same level as their European counterparts. Moreover, the majority of doctors and other health personnel who are experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable reside in these cities.

Aside from the three major cities, some hospitals provide health services at par with European standards in the provinces of Antalya, Konya, Kayseri, Bursa, Adana, Kocaeli, Gaziantep, and Samsun. Patients who visited Turkey and benefited from the health services provided in these hospitals, as well as the insurance companies of these patients, have mentioned the advanced technological infrastructure and the vocational experience and knowledge of the doctors in these hospitals as being as high as the ones in Europe.

A major strength of the medical health industry in Turkey is that it has sufficient capacity for domestic and foreign patients. There are many highly qualified doctors in Turkish hospitals, which are equipped with the latest technology and staffed by personnel who provide good and qualified health care. Private hospitals are top-notch, while almost all hospitals have the ISO 2001 quality management certification. More than ten first-class hospitals have been accredited by the JCI while others are still in the process of accreditation. There are no waiting periods for treatment.

The elements of Turkey’s competitive advantage in health tourism can thus be identified as follows: the high quality of infrastructure and hardware in the hospitals; the high experience levels of the doctors and health service providers at par with European standards; the price advantages in comparison with other countries; the country’s natural and historical prosperity and its unique geographical location as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East; and the appropriate climatic conditions combined with quality tourism administration and well-known Turkish hospitality. These factors, coupled with the desire of the almost five million Turkish individuals living abroad to receive their health treatments in Turkey, can be mentioned as Turkey’s strengths in the health tourism industry.

On the other hand, Turkey has some weak aspects as well. Despite its strengths and advantages, there have been insufficient efforts to present and introduce the industry to the international market due to the lack of organization among the industry members. There is also difficulty accessing the right person assigned to medical tourism in the hospitals. Furthermore, the inadequacy of the translations in the websites of some of these hospitals, and the deficient English language levels of the individuals who have contacts with patients and broker institutions lend an amateurish image to these well-respected institutions and obscure the credibility of their high level of medical standards. The lack of professional brokers has also been preventing Turkey from obtaining its well-deserved share of the international medical tourism market. In particular, the negative image and perception of Turkey in some countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, and France is also a matter that has to be taken into consideration. Other weak points of the industry can be listed as follows: the lack of knowledge of the hospitals concerning the documentation to be issued to foreign patients, problems with many foreign insurance and assistance companies, and the lack of professional companies that can serve as a link between the health institutions and the medical tourists.

The rapid expansion and growth of the medical industry due to globalization, the problems relative to the health systems in other countries (for example, long waiting periods, increasing costs, and dissatisfaction with the services), the increasing awareness of consumers, and the dynamics affecting healthcare such as conditions in the European Union (EU) are some of the factors that should be considered in the concept and development of a medical tourism program consisting of both vacation and treatment elements. Turkey has a unique position in that it harbors more than enough of these two elements. However, to evaluate its medical tourism potential, Turkey should emphasize an organized introduction and presentation of the entire industry, highlighting the topnotch, internationally accredited modern hospitals and the experienced, young, and dynamic physicians and health personnel employed in these hospitals, along with the advanced technological facilities and the advantage of affordable prices. In this introduction and advertisement for which the State must be required to provide aid and support, priority should be given to the countries from which medical tourists mainly originate, such as Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Probably, the first thing to be done is to encourage professional organizations that can link consumers with the medical tourism industry. Turkey has the greatest potential to obtain and attract medical tourists, especially Turkish people with EU citizenships living in Europe. The realization of this potential depends on a few conditions and terms. The State is required to facilitate conveniences and provide reinforcement (investment incentives for the private sector, presentation, visa conveniences, etc.). Insurance companies should be convinced to give priority to the first and second generations of Turkish people living abroad who spend most of their yearly vacations in Turkey. These people’s chronic diseases and other health problems should be attended to in a more comprehensive, professional, and cost-effective manner.

References

Goodrich, J.N. 1993. “Socialist Cuba: A Study of Health Tourism,” Journal of Travel Research, 32-36.

Lapitskaya, Yevgeniya. 2005. “First World Treatment at Third World Prices: Medical Tourism.” 22 November.

Beca, Hutchinson. 2005. “Medical Tourism Growing Worldwide.” Daily. 25 July. www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2005/mar/tourism072505.html.

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