Medical tourism in Europe has experienced an exponential growth in recent years creating offshoot niche markets in health tourism, wellness tourism, fertility tourism, dental tourism etc. Amidst the rapidly growing market, where does Western Europe stand? Is it merely a source destination or a preferred one for medical tourists?
A chequered trend in medical travel is observed in Western Europe where both inbound and outbound travel is prevalent in many countries. The emerging central and eastern European destinations offering attractive packages are further facilitating outbound medical tourism from developed Western European countries.
Many Western European countries globally reputed for tourism have set up world-class treatment facilities to attract a large share of medical travellers from other European countries and the US.
High treatment standards – one of the pillars of inbound medical tourism:
In Western Europe, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands and Portugal lead the pack in medical tourism. Domestic and foreign patients have an easy access to the state-of-the-art healthcare facilities at a relatively low cost than that available in the US.
Western European University Clinics have a flourishing history in medical research and innovations that contributed greatly to elevating the medical standards of this region in all respects. Their medical practices and ethical standards have been exemplary.
This paved the way for international patients to avail top of the line treatments unavailable in their home countries. Higher standards of malpractice and liability laws in some of these countries contribute a lot to building trust and confidence among foreign patients providing assurance of their wellbeing.
Cross-border healthcare facilitated outbound medical tourism in Western Europe:
In view of the demand-supply gap in healthcare, the potential of EU healthcare is much higher than the demand. Though 90% of citizens opt for medical treatments in their home countries, 53% would be willingly choosing medical services in other EU nations.
According to the estimation of EU Commission, around 780,000 more people are likely to get medical treatment services in other EU countries every year. Several collaboration models of medical travel between EU countries namely the Ardennes cross-border collaboration and the UK-Malta cross-border healthcare partnership have been existent since quite some time.
The establishment of the new European Directive on Cross-border healthcare in 2014 allows free access to treatment for all EU citizens in the public healthcare space of member countries. As a result, a new medical tourism market has emerged with Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Latvia and Romania becoming preferred medical tourism destinations for the Western Europeans.
No communication barrier:
Most Western European countries are well versed with English and other international languages. Reputed hospitals have international staff or offer language-assisting services to foreign patients speaking different languages.
Leading Western European medical tourism destinations:
TourismReview reports, nearly 250,000 patients from 177 countries visit Germany every year for some medical treatment of which 100,000 get treated in German Hospitals. The country generates about € 1 million revenue annually from medical tourism which is further invested for upgradation of medical treatments and facilities.
Germany’s patient-focused healthcare system practically offers any type of treatment anytime according to the patient’s wish maintaining a very high standard. The country has 380 doctors per 1000 residents which is higher than the average of the US and Canada. Heidelberg University Hospital, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and Kinikum Stuttgart are not only centres of excellence in Europe but also in the world.
A majority of medical tourists are sourced from neighbouring countries like Poland, Netherlands and France. A large number of patients from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman crowd German hospitals owing to lack of adequate medical facilities in critical ailments back home.
Government spending on outbound medical travel in gulf countries is pretty high although significant efforts have been taken recently to reverse the trend. Russia used to be a major source country for medical travellers but depreciation in Ruble and a drastic fall in oil prices caused a decline in the number of patients.
Euro Health Consumer Index (ECHI) 2015 rates healthcare system of the Netherlands as the best in Europe. Apparently, there is no such weak spot in the country’s healthcare system but there is a considerable room for improvement in waiting times.
As a result, Belgium has become the most preferred destination for Dutch patients seeking treatments in orthopaedics, heart surgery and caesarean operations. The trend is not new but is existent since decades.
Not only the Dutch but patients from France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the US also come to Belgium for medical treatments. In 2010, more than 46,000 patients from neighbouring European countries visited Belgium for medical care. They mostly crowd in Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Hasselt and Ghent famous for tourism.
France, the world-famous tourist destination with one of the outstanding healthcare systems in the world fits perfectly in the medical tourism map. The country takes pride in having the best surgeons in the world specializing in orthopaedic, cardiology, obesity and general surgery.
The WHO has ranked France as the topmost country offering least waiting times for patients that definitely goes in favour of the country’s medical tourism growth. Established hospitals in France namely the American Hospital of Paris, Foch Hospital, the Broussais University Hospital and the Henri Mondor are providing outstanding support to medical tourism growth.
Since the past few years, Spain has gained prominence in providing outstanding medical services to foreign patients at an incredibly low cost. The WHO has ranked Spain’s healthcare system as the 7th best in Europe, which is satisfying enough for the Spanish population.
Not only the low doctor-patient ratio but it is the excellent post-operative care of the Spanish healthcare facilities that is attracting millions of tourists. Travelers, mainly from the US and UK avail some sort of medical treatment and enjoy a splendid vacation here.
A diverse set of medical treatments are available especially the excellent chain of facilities in Barcelona and Madrid that can beat any developed nation in treatment standards. According to TourismReview, the proposed private-public partnership SpainCares project is expected to draw 200,000 medical tourists in 2019.
The President of the Spanish Tourism Cluster of Health Inigo Valcaneras expects Spain to be among the top three medical tourism destinations in the world provided the country is able to unleash its full potential in this sector. The government in cooperation with the private sector is keen to attract tourists from the UK, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Morocco, and Russia and not to mention the US.
Portugal is another country in Western Europe emerging fast as a prominent medical tourism destination. Its superb touristic offerings and state-of-the-art healthcare facilities run by a talented pool of medical and non-medical professionals fluent in English and other widely spoken international languages have been successful in drawing an appreciable volume of medical tourists.
Portugal’s healthcare system is well above European average. Moreover, the government has given top priority to medical tourism. It has established a multi-sectored task force by coordinating with different ministries and creating encouraging conditions for private partnerships.
Top private hospitals have set up international patient departments to give proper attention to foreign patients ensuring them a trouble-free comfortable experience all throughout. Many healthcare facilities have received JCI accreditations that would further build trust and reliability among foreign patients.
Medical tourism is driven by globalization of healthcare. The wider distribution of e-health technologies will further ease cross-border healthcare services in the European Union and other countries.
Accessing medical services in the European Union countries would be simpler. Medical travellers would be more empowered in decision making that would drive in deeper competition in the market. Whether Western Europe will see more of inbound or outbound travellers will largely depend on these factors.
About Author Dr Prem Jagyasi
Dr Prem is an award-winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life-improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has travelled to more than 65 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert services to more than 150 international organizations. More about him at https://drprem.com