Draft government plan to boost health and medical tourism sector

To boost Turkey’s service quality and competitive power in health and medical tourism, the government has drafted an ambitious but muddled plan for medical tourism. The aim is to provide services for 800,000 ‘healthcare travellers’ in 2018.

Overall in 2017, the number of foreign visitors to Turkey increased by 27.8% to 32.4 million, with tourism revenue increasing to $26 billion. Most tourists came from Russia, Iran and Germany, however 22% was Turks resident abroad returning to Turkey on holiday.

Over 4.7 million Russians visited Turkey in 2017, five times more than in 2016. Turkey is also becoming popular again as a destination for Germans, with 2018 bookings on the increase. In 2017, 3.45 million Germans visited Turkey but in 2015 it was 5.4 million, according to the Turkish Institute of Statistics.

Aiming to boost Turkey’s service quality and competitive power in health and medical tourism, the government has prepared a plan to promote Turkey. The Economic Ministry has prepared a “Health Services Export Strategy and Draft Action Plan.”

Turkish hospitals will be subsidised to take part in trade and purchase delegations abroad. Attempts will be made to convince foreign insurers to cover medical tourists in Turkey. A renewed effort will seek to persuade foreign governments and organisations to send elderly and disabled customers for treatment and rest in new elderly care villages.

A study will be carried out on the establishment of facilities that can provide healthy life and elderly care services and rehabilitation after operations within coastal hospitals. These facilities will also have operational units for health tourism.

Other ideas include making it easier for friends and relatives to find accommodation close to patients, and offering transfer and transport facilities. Patient consultation points will be set up in airports where foreign patients will be welcomed.

A web site and call centre will be established with foreign language capability to measure patient satisfaction.

A health visa enactment for international patients and their relatives will be introduced. Patients and their relatives will be given a residence permit for diseases requiring long-term treatment. The necessary legal framework and conditions will be determined through the coordination of the Ministry of Interior.

A health promotion group will be established to promote Turkey, and promotional activities will be carried out under state control. Slogans, brands and images appealing to target countries will be created to promote Turkey’s expertise and technology in the health sector.

This is all in draft at present and who pays for all this and why Turkey needs yet another body promoting medical tourism are among the unanswered questions.

The Turkish Healthcare Travel Council claims that 2017 saw 760,000 healthcare tourists with total revenue of more than TL7 billion. For 2018, THTC aims to provide services for 800,000 health care travellers and generate TL 7.5 billion in revenue. Whether these are medical tourists, health and medical tourists, international patients or other definition is left vague.

THTC has 317 members, consisting of hospitals, clinics, thermal and medical SPA centres, hotels, and assistance companies. Any new government body or website would risk duplicating and competing with its existing activities.