Germany, Saudi Arabia: Growth in inbound and outbound medical tourism

The Saudi Arabian market for both inbound and outbound medical tourism continues to grow, and a top destination for outbound Saudis is Germany. Lutz Vogt of German airline Lufthansa comments, “Saudi Arabia is an important source market for medical travel to Germany. And with the kingdom investing heavily in homegrown health care services and infrastructure as evidenced by plans to develop medical cities in Jeddah, there is a growing demand for inbound travel too. This augurs well for the industry and more health-related travelers to and from Saudi Arabia are to be expected.”

Germany is believed to have received 68,000 travelers for medical treatment in 2008, mainly from Arab countries and Russia. This is thought to have increased since then. Lufthansa’s home base in Germany is a major destination for medical tourists as there are more than 2,000 hospitals with over half a million beds, offering up to date high-class treatment and care. Patients recovering from a treatment can also choose rehabilitation centers in Germany. There are more than 1,300 preventive health care and rehabilitation centers.

Germany is not the only medical travel destination served by the airline. In Europe, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria and Poland have become medical destinations, and in Asia, Thailand and Malaysia receive many international patients. Lufthansa has a network that connects 200 destinations worldwide via its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich- ideal for connecting patients to and from the United States, India, Turkey, Middle East and Western Europe as well as other popular medical tourism destinations.

The airline has developed a specialty as a provider of state-of-the-art medical transport. A growing number of medical travelers are using Lufthansa’s Global Healthcare Mobility Partner Program. Lufthansa designed this to simplify the travel process and cater to the needs of international patients with comfort, flexibility and affordability. Lufthansa claims to be the only airline with a medical facility, which can be installed onboard. The airline offers a Patient Transport Compartment (PTC) on scheduled long-haul flights, which make no stopovers, such as for refueling. Compared with air ambulances, the flight time with the Lufthansa PTC is up to 50 percent shorter, making it easier for the intensive care patients and the medical personnel. Lufthansa also provides a flight attendant with medical training to look after the patient. The entire process of transporting the patient takes three days: Day 1: arrival of doctor from Germany; Day 2: medical check up to ascertain patient’s transport fitness level and if approved for travel, installation of the PTC onboard of the next flight from Frankfurt; and, Day 3: boarding the patient, return and deliver to hospital destination.

The PTC can be installed within an hour on a Boeing 747 or Airbus A340-600 and is useable on flights to 62 destinations, as the demand for traveling with PTC has increased over the years. The PTC, is only used for cases with a severe condition preventing travel in a normal seat or using a stretcher, and is used 100 times each year. The airline also has 1000 cases a year where medical passengers travel on a stretcher, and thousands more as normal passengers.