The Slovenia Times

The new face of health tourism in Central Europe



The European Congress on Health Tourism in Budapest is one of several conferences which are exclusively devoted to health and medical tourism. This indicates that there is a high interest in this topic. With the coalescence of the European-member states the demand for medical treatments abroad has increased within the European borders. On 2nd July 2008 the EU-Commission adopted a proposal for a cross-border healthcare directive as a part of the social agenda. The directive is intended to facilitate transnational patient transfers within European borders. Today financing treatments abroad is still strongly dependent on the good will of health insurances. Astonishingly 70 % of the Europeans believe, that their health insurance will fully reimburse the costs of their treatments abroad (EU-Gallup-survey). 4 % of the polled EU-citizens had received a treatment in another EU-state within the 12 months prior to the survey being conducted. These results show that this is a high ratio.

For those customers who are paying for treatments themselves such as low priced dental or beauty treatments in Eastern Europe ,then the differences in the costs play an important role alongside the quality of treatment that they receive and when making the decision of where to receive their medical care. The driver of the reduced costs will become minor in the EU and in the long-term, due to the balancing wealth levels between East and West. This is now a providential opportunity for Central European health care providers as the quality and not the price becomes the decision-making determinant when choosing the locality .

Health tourism destinations

The sector of traditional spa and cure tourism remains a major factor for the in-bound tourism and a core competence of the CEE-countries. The prevention sector with concepts like medical spa and sustainable health programs and the second health care market will become more important in relation to the cures,. To reduce the risk of failure by using a single product strategy and to scale down the strong reliance on insurance policies, a broader carefully designed product portfolio is an advisable strategy for the health (not cure) destination. Strategic foresight instruments indicate which product strategy is sustainable.

While some Asian countries such as Thailand or Singapore are already well-experienced and established on the global market for the international patient tourism, Europe is just getting started. As the treatment costs in the EU are comparatively high, Europe has to offer the best quality care. German health regions, health clusters and health care facilities have begun to promote their services at fairs like the Arab Health or the Stravo Moscau or the Medical Tourism Congress in L.A. All the venues in these countries are identified with main customer segments.

Cities with a high-standard healthcare structure like Munich, Paris, Hamburg and Berlin are working hard to establish their destinations as future hubs for international medical tourists. Vienna which has also a high potential has not installed an adequate marketing platform so far. Turkey just released the Turkey Health Tourism Guidebook 2009. These efforts usually happen in the context of a broader health destination strategy like the masterplan HealthCapital Berlin-Branden-burg. The German state of Bavaria just launched a campaign: Bavaria - Better State of Health and has developed an MBA for Medical Tourism Experts. Cluster initiatives, marketing platforms and co-opetitive approaches (co-operating competitors) are crucial to reach a significant position on the international markets.


Several new business and revenue models have been developed over the last decade. Hospitals and rehabilitation centers have adopted a new organizational structure - an International Department serving the special needs of foreign patients. The unit of the Hamburg-Eppendorf hospital, is run as its own distinct profit making centre. This leads into new customer-based perspectives when servicing the patients and a real marketing facility. It allows a direct calculation of profitability.

Simultaneously the spread of integrated and interdisciplinary real estate solutions between hospital and hospitality branches (patient hotels/guesthouses, serviced apartments) is noticeable . So called medical tourism facilitators are now acquiring patients, and offering them VIP-services, in addition to raising their website platforms similair to ˝″ or ″flymedic″ which then provides a contact and an information platform for medical facilities and patients often following questionable, provision-based revenue models. Over the last decade, the fight for quality seals accrediting health and medical tourism facilities has become much more rigorous. From the customer's point of view, Best Health Austria, Best Health International (TÜV Rheinland), Medical Spa, Europespa, JCI, KTQ,... the significance of seals is disputable, but the value for the internal quality management processes and for the B2B-marketing is out of question.

Nowadays health tourism in Europe is a multi-facet market that offers many unique opportunities. However the restructuring of this feature still needs to be greatly improved. Slovenian destinations and companies can benefit from using well-selected destination strategies and business models in health and medical tourism.

Medical tourism

The drivers

• differences in the quality of the treatment

• missing availability of the treatment at home (unique resources)

• long waiting lists for treatment at home

• differences in the cost of the treatment

• legal status of a treatment at home

• healthy lifestyle and beautymania

The barriers

• cultural barriers

• behavioural uncertainties

• unawareness / missing • transparency

• patients budget / reimbursement policy

• inconvenience / time effort

• satisfaction with treatment at home

• VISA-regulations


Dipl.-Kfm. Matthias Buchholz is a Health & Medical Tourism Consultant at Kohl & Partner Wien GmbH


More from Nekategorizirano