73,200 visit Estonia for health treatments in 2017

According to an article in Today, a growing number of people are travelling from nearby countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, plus from the UK, to undergo medical procedures in Estonia.

The article goes on to state that approximately 1.2% of the country’s visitors arrived for health treatments in 2017, up from 0.6% in 2016. Last year’s figure was the highest since 2014, when medical tourism data first became available. It also says overall tourism rose 3% last year, to 6.1 million visitors.  This would mean that 73,200 visited Estonia for health treatments in 2017.  No source of this data was given in the article and IMTJ estimates the inbound number of medical travellers is significantly lower than this amount.

Foreign patients typically want orthopaedic, plastic or weight loss surgeries. Bariatric procedures in particular are becoming more popular, said Mr Sten Dubin, managing partner at The Health Clinic, one of the largest medical travel agencies.

He said that Estonia’s proximity to Scandinavian countries, known for their high cost of living, is another reason for the increase in medical tourists. “In medicine, you don’t always want the cheapest. So you come to the next best thing, where quality meets price — and out of all the Baltic countries, Estonia is the most advanced,” he said.

The clinic saw 174 patients from overseas, and last year, the number reached 281. It brought in some €1.4 million in revenue last year, up from €800,000 in 2016. It expects to earn more than €2 million by the end of this year.

Medicine Estonia is an organisation that promotes the country’s medical services to patients who live abroad. Estonia has two healthcare hubs: its capital, Tallinn, and Tartu, its second largest city, due to the university hospital and medical faculty at the University of Tartu.

There is strong competition among hospitals, in both attracting foreign patients and serving the country’s small population of 1.3 million, said Dr Lauri Maisvee, 48, head of Fertilitas’ surgery department.  Fertilitas saw about 1,000 foreign patients last year, mostly from Finland. The number of overseas patients has risen by about 100 every year, over the past few years, said Dr Maisvee. Plastic surgeries are the most popular procedures among foreign patients at Fertilitas, but there has been a rise in the number of bariatric surgeries recently, he added.

Better marketing, ease of travel and cheaper prices have contributed to the medical tourism boom here, he said.

Estonia’s medical tourism scene faces some challenges as it continues to grow. These include rising competition from neighbours like Latvia and Lithuania, and a slight brain drain as some doctors leave for countries with higher pay.

For a further analysis of inbound medical travel to Estonia, visit the IMTJ Country Profile.