Turkey's efforts to become a hub for health tourism are paying dividends, as the region's people flock to Turkish hospitals for quality treatment at affordable prices. The aim is to treat 500,000 foreign patients in 2015.
Combining health care with travel has become a recent phenomenon in the travel and tourism industry and is called "health tourism." Many countries have been developing suitable packages in order to cater for "health tourists." Turkey is among those countries which are rapidly advancing in providing quality health care in both medical and aesthetic treatment with the assistance of both private investments and government promotions. One of the greatest advantages Turkey has is the country's geographical location, which is a crossroad between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, making it a strong candidate for a "global tourism center."
As a result, Turkey has become a strong alternative for patients from all around the world who are seeking qualified healthcare services at appealing prices. The country aims to earn $7 billion by hosting 500,000 patients in 2015.Turkey's effort in improving health tourism is not just limited to increasing healthcare quality but also creating a convenient environment for patients. For this reason, the Turkish government formed the "Department for Health Tourism," which has started functioning under the Ministry of Health. This department has an "International Patient Assistance Unit," which provides a translation service with a 24/7 hotline in four languages: English, German, Russian and Arabic.
According to statistics most of the foreign patients prefer private hospitals for their surgeries. Dr. Ali Aksu, a doctor and owner of an ophthalmology-hospital (eye specialist) in Istanbul, spoke to Daily Sabah as to why foreign patients prefer Turkey over other countries in health tourism. Aksu stressed that price, quality and coordination are the three main factors as to why people choose Turkey. "We are currently treating 2000-2500 patients annually.
We are always looking at ways to improve our services. When compared with other countries, it becomes quite evident that Turkey has much to offer in terms of health tourism. First of all, our country has significant advantages in price. We have qualified and experienced doctors in numerous fields and luxurious hospitals which use high end technology for our operations.
Furthermore, the cost of an operation is much more affordable when service and quality of care are taken into consideration and compared with other developed countries," Aksu said.
He added that the second advantage of Turkey is excellent coordination between hospitals and patients. "For instance, our hospital has a specific department named 'International relations department' for health tourism, which initiated contact between doctor and patient long before the patient arrives in the country.
The lines of communication are kept open during the procedure and the entire duration in which the patient is in the country. This department has been divided into different branches according to regions; such as a European branch, Middle Eastern branch and a Caucasian Branch; to which every branch provides considerate care and service to their own group. We have English, Italian, Arabic, Russian and Georgian speaking translators to assist our patients," he continued. "Turkey also offers the opportunity for enriching tourists' trips with "some touristic flavor." Patients are welcomed at the airport and taken by our shuttle, Aksu said. "They can consult us to find accommodation during their trip. Our IR department arranges Istanbul sightseeing tours for patients after operations," he added.
Dr. Aksu said they host patients from various countries. "The reasons differ from region to region; people from Europe coming to the country for operations such as plastic surgery, teeth crowns; while patients from the Middle East coming for hair implants, eye surgery, heart surgery, diabetes," he said.
Even though a lot of doctors speak of Turkey's infrastructure for health tourism with compliments, some are slightly wary about it. Speaking to the Daily Sabah, Prof. Aylin Bilgin Karabulut, professor at Istanbul Medical Faculty, Department of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery, said that Turkey needs to remark on some negative points although we have a good position in health tourism . "We [Turkey] have intense patient traffic that comes from various regions, from Europe to the Far East, especially over the last years. We have well-versed staff for operations and patients don't have to strive against intense bureaucratic processes anymore. Nevertheless, we should draw attention to some negative aspects too.
As we all know, private hospitals are corporations which are seeking to gain maximum profit from patients. This situation necessitates a strict regulation process for these hospitals by the government. If you don't establish a well-functioning supervision mechanism, it seems that the future will be bleak.
Patients should be satisfied with their service in order to provide continuity. That's the way to reach the projected achievement about health tourism. Moreover, it's also important to receive feedback from patients. Thus, you would have the chance to evaluate the quality of service. This would help to improve your inadequate aspects."