Practical ideas for Croatia’s medical tourism sector

In an in-depth interview with Total Croatia News, Daniel Coulton Shaw, International Clinic Mentor and Director of Global Clinic Rating (GCR) shares successful medical travel strategies in use in some European countries, and offers practical ideas for Croatia’s medical tourism sector.

In the article, Daniel Coulton Shaw says that GCR research on over 10,000 patients points towards the fact that today’s medical tourism consumer in Europe makes their decision across 3 factors: price, proximity and quality.

For Croatia, he sees the pricing and positioning of healthcare being in the mid-range, like successful healthcare regions in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. He recommends the following to help develop Croatia’s medical tourism sector:

  • Travel connections: He suggests there’s more work to be done in Croatia to improve flight and ferry connections, particularly from the mid and south of Italy or Montenegro, plus in setting up the infrastructure for emergency helicopter landings.
  • Language capability: He also believes that while many Croatian clinics have proven to be able to work in Italian, they need “solid language abilities in German, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and English” to compete with their peers (e.g. Hungarian clinics do well with English & German, Polish clinics with Norwegian & English, the Czech Republic with Russian and English).
  • Perceived medical safety: Potential patients from further afield than neighbouring countries need to be reassured that the Croatian environment is safer and more welcoming than currently perceived. He suggests that international standard rights, precautions and partnerships are set up in case of medical complications that arise after returning to their home country.
  • Proof of quality: Coulton Shaw sees this reputation for quality healthcare as Croatia’s biggest hurdle. “As a newcomer, Croatia has no real proof of quality reputation yet within elective and advanced medical treatments apart from within the sports community“, he says. He recommends sharing transparent treatment outcome data from the region along with successful case studies and 3rd party proof of quality through ratings or accreditations to help accelerate this process.
  • Mobilise the ex-pat community: The Croatian ex-pat community is significant and could be mobilized to speed this up even further. Coulton Shaw says that it’s a method proven in the UAE, by bringing their ex-pats home through incentivised medical treatment, and in Hungary with supporting talented Hungarian doctors back to work in the country.

Coulton Shaw also shared his understanding of practical medical travel strategies that he has seen work in neighbouring countries. This included:

  • Clinics in Hungary that have Koreans as their no.1 patient due to partnerships with the KIA and Samsung factories.
  • Clinics in Poland that have Chinese and Africans as their no.1 patient due to partnerships with the local governments and communities.
  • Clinics in Slovakia that have Arabs as their no. 1 patient group by supporting the flight route to Arab countries.

He recommends that Croatian clinics should start at home, focusing on the ex-pat communities living within Croatia for professional or personal reasons. “Once awareness of affordable, quality and likeable has reached a tipping point locally, I’d consider the untapped medical options of patients in Italy, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria”, he says. “These are so far being reached only for dentistry and low-risk elective treatments“. Only then, he suggests, should the German-speaking market be considered, as an alternative to options available in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The UK and Scandinavian markets, he says, are very different markets needing a completed different approach. To attract more of these patients he believes would first need to be supported by extra suitable flight connections year-round to be a sustainable business model.