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Greece opens to the medical tourism market

19 November 2012 / 21:11:28  GRReporter
4229 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

"In addition to traditional tourism Greece could become the centre of medical tourism as well. The basis and preconditions are here. All that remains is for the legal framework to be adopted and the players involved in the chain to be coordinated. If it all ended in 2013, the country would be ready to welcome its first medical tourists at the end of the year." This is the opinion of representatives of the health care system and tourism, who presented today a piece of research entitled "Development of medical tourism in Greece."
For this purpose, Greece’s hospitality association proposes six pilot programmes for the development and promotion of complete networks offering health services to foreign visitors. They will be established around local hospitals, clinics or health centres with the participation of hospitals, hotels, travel agencies, advertising companies, transportation companies, companies for certification of health services by international standards and local government.

"In addition to traditional tourism, medical tourism could evolve in Greece too. The basis and preconditions are here. If the legal framework is regulated by the end of 2013, we will be fully prepared to start," professor of social medicine at the University of Athens, George Toundas, said during a press conference in the hospitality association. Its chairman George Tsakiris said that the organization would undertake the certification of tourist sites that would take this kind of tourists.

According to economist Aristos Doxiadis, who is also the head of the piece of research called "Development of medical tourism in Greece," the country has the capacity to receive tourists from the two types of medical tourism: the selective type, in which the foreigner comes to the country with the sole purpose of receiving medical treatment. This includes plastic, dental and eye surgery and IVF pregnancy. These are interventions that health funds do not usually cover and patients are free to decide where and how much they will pay to obtain a specific service. Another category is cardiac interventions, rehabilitation, cancer treatment and organ transplantation. These therapies are expensive and their price plays a crucial role in the preference of patients.

The other category of medical tourism overlaps with traditional tourism. It affects coping with emergencies or securing treatment for chronically ill tourists or people who pay business visits to Greece.

According to the economist, the medical tourism market internationally is huge: 5,000,000 patients and turnover of 15-20 billion dollars. It is developed mainly in India, Singapore, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Hungary and Turkey. As he pointed out, the good health care systems in European countries are the main reason for it to not particularly develop in the old continent. On the other hand, awaiting various operations and treatments forces many people to seek medical treatment abroad.

As pointed out, Greece has sufficient public and private hospitals and clinics, more than double the required medical staff and the entire infrastructure that can be used for this type of tourism. "The prices of services are also competitive without having to cut them further," said one of the doctors involved in the research.

The directive adopted last year to remove barriers to cross-border medical service is legislated at European level. "The prerequisites for its implementation are the responsibility of the state authorities which have to make the necessary adjustments to the legal framework. We must avoid at all costs the introduction of the old familiar practices for issuing new permits and other documents, as this could exacerbate the process," the economist warns.

Aristos Doxiadis added that the sample, but achievable figures are impressive: In a flow of about 100,000 patients, each of whom will spend 4,000 euro (3,000 for medical expenses and 1,000 euro for hotel and food) the revenue in 3 - 5 years could be in the range of 400 million euro a year.

According to him, even if cross-border care fails at European level, Greece still has large markets like Russia and the Middle East countries, where health care systems are not developed and the patients seek medical care abroad.

Experts believe that the development of medical tourism will contribute to the improvement of the image of the country that has been tarnished in recent years, and to the extension of the tourist season. In addition it would lay the foundations for tourism for the elderly, which is one of the long-term goals of the Greek tourism industry.

Tags: CompaniesHoteliersMedical tourismCross-border medical services
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