2023… A year of opportunity for medical travel?

After two years of trauma, is medical travel in the recovery room and ready to get back to business in 2023? IMTJ Editor in Chief, Keith Pollard, asks: what opportunities for business growth has the pandemic created?

In December 2019, the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China. In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on 11 March 2020, a global pandemic was declared by WHO. What followed affected every country in the world, put a stop to international travel and tourism and created major challenges for the developing medical tourism sector.

So… will 2023 see the recovery of medical travel, and has the pandemic created opportunities for renewed growth in the sector?

Meeting pent-up demand

The pandemic put unprecedented pressure on domestic healthcare systems, creating long waiting lists for treatment and encouraging patients to seek alternative solutions to their healthcare needs. Some providers have been quick to seize this opportunity for new business and serve patients who have become frustrated by the delays in their domestic healthcare system. An article, last week, in the Daily Telegraph, a UK national newspaper, stated:

  • “an increasing number of UK patients opting to travel abroad for essential medical treatment. From Lithuania to Hungary, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, and of course, Turkey, Eastern Europe is becoming a hotspot for Brits faced with the twin issues of NHS waiting lists and the exorbitant costs of private healthcare.”

The Medical Diagnostics and Treatment Centre in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius sees more than 5,000 UK patients every year, for everything from weight-loss surgery, full health check-ups, to orthodontic treatment. The Nordorthopaedics Clinic in Kaunas, Lithuania is also seeing an increase in patients from the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Both healthcare providers have been quick to seize the opportunity to capitalise on the pent-up demand in European healthcare systems.

A solution for “Long Covid” sufferers

Researchers have been investigating the impact of “long Covid”. Covid-19 causes a significant portion of people to experience symptoms long after the initial sickness, even if the initial sickness was mild. An analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that if long Covid treatment is similar to that of chronic fatigue syndrome, it would cost about US$9,000 each year per patient. A 2022 study estimated that it will cost the US between US$149bn and US$362bn in medical expenses and lost income. The WHO estimates that at least 17 million people in the European Region experienced long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic and that millions may have to live with it for years to come. The British Medical Journal has reported that patients with long Covid are travelling to private clinics in Cyprus, Germany, and Switzerland for blood filtering apheresis and anticoagulation drugs. Although experts have questioned whether such invasive treatments should be offered without sufficient evidence, there is clearly a gap in the market for those medical wellness clinics and healthcare providers that believe they can offer a solution for long Covid sufferers.

The Long Covid Centre at Poseidonia Healthcare in Larnaca, Cyprus has attracted over 100 patients seeking treatment. In Switzerland, several well-known rehabilitation clinics, including Oberwaid Clinic and Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence are addressing the problem by offering individually tailored long Covid programmes.

A dental travel boom?

Whilst governments are working hard to ensure that their hospitals can cope with the demand for elective surgery, the attention has been taken away from an area of healthcare that represents a significant area of medical travel.  In this week’s IMTJ, we feature a report on the shortcomings of publicly funded dental care. The report states despite the high prevalence of oral diseases and poor dental health, statutory cover of dental care is limited in many European countries by restricted service packages and high private funding compared to other health services.

Dental travel has always been a rich source of income for those clinics that have targeted under-provided source markets. In 2023 and beyond, the pressure on public funding for healthcare will no doubt drive many more people to explore the options for dental treatment abroad.  On LaingBuisson’s medical travel portal, Treatment Abroad, there’s been a recovery in visitors/enquirers seeking information on dental treatment abroad, up 75% from the tail end of 2021.

Identifying the opportunities

The three sectors mentioned above are just three areas of opportunity that 2023 presents to those in the medical travel business. The challenge for healthcare providers aiming to grow their business in 2023 is identifying where those new business opportunities are, how to exploit them and whether the opportunity is right for them.  That’s where IMTJ’s Country Profiles come in. IMTJ Country Profiles enable you to find out all you need to know about a specific source market, and access the latest news, articles, information and statistics relating to inbound and outbound medical travel for that country. For just £400 for a one year subscription, you’ll also get exclusive access to hundreds of articles providing insightful opinion and commentary from industry experts. Money well spent if you’re aiming to grow your business in 2023.

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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.