Prominent Countries in Health Tourism

Importance of Destinations in Health Tourism
After making the decision to be treated in another country for various reasons, a health tourist first chooses the destination he will travel to. While making this choice, he reviews many features of the destination. In addition, if there are people who have traveled as health tourists around, they also get ideas from them. Finally, he decides on his destination and starts looking for a clinic, hospital and doctor.

The characteristics of health tourism destinations greatly affect health tourism revenues in this context. That is, the efforts of clinics, hospitals or doctors alone cannot sufficiently increase the reputation of a destination. First of all, the destination needs to become a brand, provide various advantages to health tourists, and also improve health systems in every sense.

In addition, the official institutions and organizations of the destinations can facilitate the travels of health tourists with various regulations. The biggest example of this is the convenience of visa procedures. For example, if the treatment to be received by a health tourist requires 3 different visits within 3 months, then the duration of the visa to be given to the health tourist is adjusted accordingly, and as a result, the health tourist is prevented from dealing with visa procedures every time.

Another importance of health tourism destinations in the sector is the impact power of the moves to be made through official institutions and organizations. For example, some developed countries cannot serve many patients on time due to their health systems. At this point, these countries open various tenders and look for countries that can serve these patients. The influence of official institutions and organizations of a health tourism destination comes into play here. Thanks to various lobbying activities and good relations, these destinations can bring quite a large number of patients to their countries with only one agreement with a single agreement. In this way, there will be savings in the advertising activities of health institutions and agencies.

Another power that health tourism destinations have is advertising and promotion activities. The activities to be carried out by various ministries in target countries, promoting innovations and advantages in both tourism and health, contribute significantly to the branding of the country. Again, as stated in the previous paragraph, a large audience can be reached with a single study and the advertising and promotion burden of health institutions and agencies is reduced.

The main reason for all this is, of course, the financial power and recognition of official institutions. After all, the ministry of health, insurance companies or big tourism agencies of a developed country take the job much more seriously when they see an official institution of a country. Therefore, official institutions can directly affect the existence of a destination in health tourism, both materially and morally, and play an important role in the branding of the destination.

The importance of health tourism destinations is obvious. Knowing the good and bad aspects of these destinations will both increase our sector dominance and contribute to the knowledge necessary to move our country to better places. Let’s examine health tourism and health systems in the world and in Turkey.

Prominent Countries in Health Tourism
Health tourism has grown rapidly in the last 15-20 years, especially with the opportunities offered by the internet and the breakthroughs made by countries, and it continues to grow. In this process, some countries have become prominent countries in health tourism with the right moves. Well, where is the health tourism mostly done in the world?

South Korea
United States of America
Costa Rica
These countries are the first to come to mind when health tourism is mentioned. However, as can be seen in the list, some of these countries are developing countries and some are developed countries. Well, while one of the most important factors that accelerate health tourism is cost advantage, how do developed countries take place in this list?

Contrary to popular belief, health tourism does not only cover aesthetics, dental treatments and hair transplantation. In fact, the types of health tourism are much more than these treatments. For example, many people visit one of the world-famous cancer centers in the United States. The main reason for this is not the cost advantage. This center, which applies the most advanced cancer treatment techniques, also constantly tries new treatments by doing research on cancer. This makes this center attractive for patients living outside the USA and suffering from cancer, although the cost is much higher.

Another reason why health tourism destinations come to the fore is location. For example, when an Israeli citizen decides to travel for health tourism, countries close to Israel will be one of their first choices. beyond that

For example, for the Middle East countries, Turkey is a popular country with the health and tourism advantages it provides. Likewise, Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica are among the countries that US and Canadian citizens frequently visit for the purpose of health tourism.

In addition to these, some countries have become a brand by providing health tourists with services that are not very familiar to us. The biggest example of this situation can be shown as India. India provides not only general treatment services, but also various wellness services in what is called wellness tourism. These services sometimes include various meditation methods and a whole set of methods called Ayurvedic Medicine, dating back to ancient times.

Another factor that makes destinations attractive is their touristic value. Some developing countries, with their historical and cultural heritage or holiday opportunities, naturally come to the fore in health tourism. The best example for this can be given as Turkey. Turkey has become one of the first countries that come to mind when it comes to health tourism, with its proximity to the Middle East and Europe, the fact that many tourists currently prefer Turkey for a holiday, and the breakthroughs it has made in the health sector in recent years. Today, Turkey is the most preferred country in the world for some treatments.

Now, let’s examine the prominent countries in health tourism, their health systems and their approaches to health tourism.

  1. Turkey
    Turkey has been a favorite of tourists for many years, especially with its geographical location, touristic opportunities, cultural and historical heritage. With the Health Transformation Program implemented in 2003, improvements in the health infrastructure, the increase in the number of accredited hospitals and health tourism regulations, Turkey has managed to become one of the countries that play the lead in health tourism.

Turkey Health System
Before the Health Transformation Program, Turkey had a system in which different social security systems worked simultaneously. These systems appealed to 4 different types of employees as SSK, Retirement Fund, Bağ-Kur and Yeşil Kart, respectively. In addition to these, it was possible for people who wished to have private health insurance. With the Health Transformation Program, these 4 systems were combined under one roof, the concept of General Health Insurance (GSS) emerged and an integrity was achieved.

Turkey Health Tourism
Turkey is in an advantageous position in the health tourism sector, especially with its geographical location in the middle of the Asia-Africa-Europe triangle and its touristic opportunities. It has become one of the prominent countries in health tourism with the regulations made in the health system, the increase in the quality of medical services and the training of specialist doctors in the field.

Cost advantage is one of the advantages Turkey has in health tourism. Many treatments are offered at a much lower cost than in American and European countries. The combination of this situation with the ease of transportation and holiday opportunities also reveals a great potential.

Turkey is one of the countries that aims to increase its share in the sector by making various legal arrangements in health tourism. In the action plans that the country creates at regular intervals, many points have been emphasized, from the promotion of health tourism to the establishment of international patient units, from accreditation studies to special agreements with other countries at the government level.

Turkey has an attitude that competes with other health tourism destinations in terms of accreditation. According to 2016 data, 46 hospitals in Turkey have been accredited by JCI.

Turkey has brought certain special rules covering health institutions and agencies that make health tourism in the national sense. Any organization that wants to do health tourism should apply to the Ministry of Health and obtain a health tourism authorization certificate.

Since health tourism is counted as a foreign exchange earning service trade, it falls within the scope of government incentives given by the Ministry of Commerce. Institutions operating in the health tourism sector are supported by the state at almost all stages of their organizations.

Turkey is growing rapidly in health tourism and hosts more than 1 million health tourists every year.

  1. India
    India is the second largest country in the world in terms of population. It is home to many different languages ​​and cultures with its crowd. Although India is behind many countries in terms of welfare and health system, it is a country that has come to the fore with its investments and moves in health tourism. In addition, with the adoption of many traditional medicine methods within legal frameworks, India has an important place in the health tourism market today.

India Health System
Since India has a state system, the task of organizing health services rests with the states. Also, India has a mixed public and private healthcare system. Although the State of India pays every citizen in public institutions

Although z aims to cure, it has not been able to provide it in practice. One of the biggest reasons for this is both the economic situation of India and the fact that about 80 percent of doctors work in the private sector. Since the citizens of India, whose welfare level is relatively low, cannot get service in the public sector, they try to get service from private institutions by pushing their conditions.

If we look at the financing of health services, we see that health services in India are generally financed by the private sector. Public institutions are insufficient in this regard. According to the data of the World Health Organization (WHO), India allocates only 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product to the health sector. In this respect, India ranks 184th out of 191 countries in the world.

India Health Tourism
Although the health system in India is problematic, thanks to the cooperation of public and private institutions and the steps of the government, India has achieved serious success in health tourism.

At this point, visa liberalization comes at the forefront of the legal regulations regarding health tourism. The possible visa restriction for foreigners who will visit the country twice within 2 months for the purpose of health tourism has been lifted. Another convenience regarding visa is the visa application on arrival. Thanks to this application, visitors who come to the country for the purpose of receiving health care can get a 30-day visa when they arrive in India.

India is one of the first countries to initiate legislation for health tourism. In this sense, it can be said that India is one of the first countries to realize the potential of health tourism. The State of India has taken service from McKinsey consultancy company in order to make the legal regulations correctly. One of the first moves made after this study is the reorganization of some laws and the development of airport infrastructures.

India’s legal regulations are not limited to these. In addition to conventional treatments, traditional and complementary treatments, yoga and other wellness treatments of India, also known as Ayurvedic Medicine, can be given legally within the borders of India. This has led foreign citizens who are particularly interested in this type of treatment to visit India frequently.

All stakeholders of health tourism worked in coordination for the promotion of all the aforementioned legal regulations abroad. In this way, India has managed to take place in the top 10 in the world in medical tourism.

  1. South Korea
    South Korea is a country only half a century old. However, it has become one of the leading countries in the world with its investments in science and technology. There are many technology brands known worldwide. South Korea has also been involved in health tourism in recent years and has developed some projects. The most important of these projects is the project to position the Jeju autonomous region as the “Health Tourism Center for Asia”.

South Korea Health System
South Korea has a mixed system with national health insurance and some programs, mainly in the private sector. Since the private sector provides more than 90 percent of the total health service, the South Korean government makes agreements with the institutions in the private sector and ensures that its citizens who pay health insurance premiums receive treatment.

With the health reforms initiated in the 1960s-70s, South Korea also significantly increased life expectancy at birth. Life expectancy, which was 54 in those years, increased to 83 in 2018, above the OECD average.

South Korea Health Tourism
South Korea has taken several steps to become one of the leading countries in health tourism. The most important of these is the work it has done to make the Jeju Autonomous Special Province region the health center of the Asian continent. In this region, studies are carried out to facilitate the process of health tourists. For example, translators who can speak various languages ​​have been placed in the region. In this way, health tourists can easily determine which services they want to receive in their own language, holiday opportunities and treatment programs. In addition, new hotels were built in this area, thus trying to turn Jeju Province into a health resort.

In addition, a wide variety of visa facilities are provided for health tourists visiting the Jeju region. For example, health tourists can stay in South Korea for up to 4 years if they need it.

Thanks to its income and knowledge from science and technology, South Korea offers high-tech medical services, thus attracting the attention of health tourists from many countries.

Despite all these efforts, South Korea can be considered as one of the countries that realized the potential of health tourism late. Despite the rapid increase in the number of health tourists hosted, this number was only 380 thousand in 2018. However, when the diversity, quality and complexity of the health services offered is high,

can be considered as a good performance as the average income from each health tourist.

Although South Korea has a price disadvantage compared to countries in the same region such as India, Thailand and Malaysia, it is one of the leading countries in health tourism with the high quality medical technology it offers. South Korea received the “Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year” award in 2018 and 2019 by the Medical Travel Journal.

  1. Thailand
    Thailand is one of the world’s leading countries in health tourism with its extraordinary tourism opportunities, quality treatments, historical and cultural heritage and hospitality. Thailand is a country that offers health services at a high level with the beautiful values ​​in its culture, and therefore is preferred by many health tourists. If we take a brief look at its culture, the first thing we encounter is the high tolerance limit among the people. Tolerance to others and avoidance of conflict in bilateral relations is very important in Thai culture. In addition, criticizing and fighting people is considered extremely bad.

Thailand Health System
Institutions providing health services in Thailand can be divided into 3 as public, private and non-profit institutions. Although public hospitals provide quality medical services, many patients prefer healthcare facilities in the private sector due to long waiting times. In addition, some non-profit organizations operate in the provision of health services for citizens with low welfare levels.

Thailand is the country with the most hospitals in its region. There are also many hospitals and clinics serving only for health tourism. There are 12 medical faculties in the country that train 1000 doctors a year, and many doctors in Thailand received their specialty training in Europe and the USA and returned to Thailand.

In terms of doctor quality, Thailand is in an advanced position from many countries. The number of specialist doctors in the country is so high that they often have to perform relatively simple and non-specialized examinations and treatments.

Thailand Health Tourism
Thailand’s health tourism adventure actually dates back to the 1970s. During these dates, it served health tourists coming from western countries for gender reassignment surgeries.

Thailand’s success in the industry has increased thanks to its high quality, western-educated and linguistically literate doctors and hospitality of its people in fields such as heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and aesthetic treatment.

Another factor that has a role in the development of Thailand in the sector is the Bumrungrad Hospital, which was opened in the early 2000s. Bumrungrad Hospital, which is shown among the top 10 health tourism hospitals in the world, treats more than 1 million patients in total, approximately 500 thousand of which are foreign patients every year.

The fact that it offers a quality treatment with high-tech equipment also makes Thailand stand out from other countries in its region. For example, while India served 450 thousand foreign patients in 2007, this number is approximately 1.2 million in Thailand.

Thailand is one of the earliest health tourism destinations that started accreditation studies. With the studies started in 2002, many hospitals have been internationally accredited by JCI. In addition, national accreditation studies also increase the sustainability of service quality.

Thailand has a structure that will set an example for other countries in terms of hospitality. Some hospitals in Thailand have specially prepared places according to the countries. For example, a medical tourist from Japan is treated in his own customary setting where the hospital has prepared for Japanese citizens. In addition to the physical conditions, the hospital staff also ensures that the health tourist can receive service in the way they are used to in their own country.

The fact that many doctors in Thailand received their specialty training in countries such as the USA and England is one of the reasons why Thailand has gained momentum in health tourism. In this way, many patients can experience the comfort of receiving treatment from a doctor who speaks in their own language.

Thailand is among the top 5 in the world when it comes to health tourism revenues. However, when we look at the health tourism expenses of the countries, Thailand is not even among the top 25 in the world. This shows that Thailand has established a correct income-expenditure balance and is making a high profit from health tourism.

  1. United States
    The USA is generally in the position of sending patients, not bringing patients in health tourism. The reasons why the USA is preferred in health tourism are generally high quality and qualified manpower in the health sector. In addition, the USA has gained a reputation for having the best centers in the world for many treatments. However, due to the high cost and waiting times, many US citizens travel to other countries every year to receive health care.

US Health System
The United States of America, in the health system, sometimes together, sometimes together.

It is the center of the Brazilian health tourism industry.

Another move of Brazil is infrastructure works. The government is constantly renovating airports, roads, hotels. In addition, continuous training is provided to hotel and health institution employees.

Despite all these efforts, Brazil has a stagnant structure in terms of health tourism compared to other countries around it. The main reasons for this situation are the inability of health and tourism infrastructures to work in harmony with each other, the lack of foreign language and the inadequacy of legal regulations.

Looking at these results, we observe that Brazil has not yet discovered the potential of health tourism and attaches as much importance to tourism.


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