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Turkey’s medical tourism: An economic panacea in turbulent times

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In a world where the quest for affordable healthcare drives individuals across borders, nations find themselves in a race to offer cost-effective medical services to the global populace.

Medical tourism is now an important contributor to Turkey's economy
Medical tourism is now an important contributor to Turkey's economy

Among the contenders, Turkey emerges with a promise of quality healthcare at competitive prices. This promise isn't merely a beacon for those searching for medical relief but a strategic manoeuvre to bolster the nation's economy, particularly in the face of a weakening Turkish Lira.

The narrative of Turkey's medical tourism isn't just about the allure of its advanced healthcare facilities or the skilled hands of its medical professionals. It's a tale of economic fortitude, of a nation leveraging its healthcare sector to attract a much-needed influx of foreign currency.

The devaluation of the Turkish Lira has not only impacted the cost of living for its citizens but has also cast a long shadow over its tourism industry. However, amidst the economic tumult, the medical tourism sector emerges as a silver lining, offering a pathway to economic recovery.

As the Turkish Lira treads on shaky grounds, the revenue generated from medical tourism shines as a hope- giving facet. The sector's potential to draw foreign currency into the nation's coffers is seen as a buffer against the economic headwinds. With a projected market value increase from US $3,751.6million in 2023 to US $6,670.5million by 2033, the medical tourism sector is not just a fleeting trend but a strategic pillar in Turkey's economic blueprint.

This investigation unfolds the economic narrative of Turkey's medical tourism sector, delving into the figures, the government initiatives, and the global competitive advantage that places Turkey on the map as a sought-after medical tourism destination. Through a neutral lens, we explore how the nation is capitalising on this sector to navigate through its economic challenges and how the influx of medical tourists is becoming a vital artery pumping foreign currency into Turkey's economy.

Economic lifeline: Unveiling Turkey’s medical tourism boom

Turkey's medical tourism sector is growing, offering a glimmer of economic hope amidst the nation's financial turbulence exacerbated by the devaluation of the Turkish Lira. With a market value projected to ascend from

US $3,751.6million in 2023 to US $6,670.5 million by 2033, the sector is more than just a statistical highlight; it's a narrative of economic fortitude.

The allure of Turkey's medical tourism significantly shines in the domains of hair transplants, dental work, and plastic surgery. Individuals, especially from Europe and the UK, are drawn to Turkey's shores, enticed by the prospect of receiving quality medical care at a fraction of the cost back home, with savings reaching up to 70 per cent. According to the Turkish Health Tourism Association, over 1 million people ventured to Turkey, spending over USD $2billion on hair transplants alone in 2022.

Moreover, the international recognition of Turkey's medical tourism sector is being amplified through social media trends. A notable example is the “Turkey Teeth” trend on TikTok, where individuals share their experiences and results of dental procedures done in Turkey. This trend showcases the quality and affordability of dental care in Turkey and serves as a modern-day word-of-mouth marketing strategy, reaching a global audience. Body Expert, a medical tourism agency in Turkey, is among the entities capitalising on this digital wave to promote medical tourism in the country.

The substantial marketing investments by Body Expert and its competitors reflect the growth and importance of Turkey's medical tourism sector. These marketing endeavours are about promoting individual clinics or services and positioning Turkey as a reputable and preferred destination for medical tourism on the global stage. Through strategic marketing and leveraging social media trends, Turkey's medical tourism sector is gaining traction and contributing significantly to the nation's economy, especially at a time when the influx of foreign currency is crucial.

This influx of medical tourists is not merely a transient trend but a substantial economic lifeline. The foreign currency from medical tourism is a much-needed financial infusion, providing a buffer against the economic headwinds stirred by the Lira's devaluation.

The ripple effect of this economic surge extends beyond the healthcare sector. Local businesses, hospitality, and transportation industries are also reaping the benefits, creating a cycle of economic stimulation that resonates across various facets of the Turkish economy.

Government initiatives to bolster healthcare infrastructure, obtain international accreditations, and promote Turkey as a medical tourism hub have further fueled this growth, portraying Turkey as a viable and attractive destination for medical tourists around the globe.

Government-led initiatives: Propelling Turkey's medical tourism

Turkey’s ascent in the medical tourism sector is not a coincidence but a result of strategic government-led initiatives to foster this sector. The Ministry of Trade, through its attractive incentives, has been pivotal in enhancing Turkey's appeal in health tourism. These incentives, as outlined in Communique No. 2015/8 on “Supporting the Trade in Foreign Exchange Earning Services”,are designed to bolster the foreign exchange earning service revenues and improve the international competitiveness of the service sectors in Turkey, including health tourism.

One of the significant steps towards promoting health tourism is the provision for establishing preliminary diagnosis centres abroad. The ministry covers 60 per cent of the rent of such facilities for four years, supporting up to 10 units. Once these centres are operational and advertising activities commence, a further 60 per cent non-refundable grant is provided for four years. This initiative promotes Turkey's medical services abroad and facilitates easy access for potential medical tourists.

Moreover, to enhance the international competitiveness and brand recognition of Turkish medical services, grants are provided for documentation, brand registration, and even interpreter services in the country. For instance, a nonrefundable grant covering 50 per cent of the expenditures is available for documentation, and a similar grant is provided for brand registration. Additionally, the salaries of two interpreters are supported by 50 per cent for four years, up to a maximum of $25,000 per employee per year.

Istanbul at night
Istanbul at night

The government also incentivises bringing in patients from abroad by providing 50 per cent per-patient support, up to a maximum of $1,000. This incentive directly reflects the government's commitment to boosting the number of international patients seeking medical care in Turkey.

Furthermore, grants are available for attending conferences or fairs and for commission payments made to agencies bringing international patients to Turkey, with 50 per cent support allocated for four years. These incentives significantly lower the operational costs for medical facilities and agencies involved in medical tourism, thereby promoting the growth of this sector.

The target set by the government is ambitious yet reflective of the potential seen in health tourism - treating two million international patients in Turkey by 2023. Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the swift increase in service exports in the health sector, following the automotive, food, and textile sectors, showcases the robustness and the promising future of medical tourism in Turkey.

These government-led initiatives and investments underscore the strategic importance of medical tourism as a vehicle for economic recovery and growth. Through these measures, Turkey is enhancing its healthcare infrastructure and positioning itself as a reputable and competitive player in the global medical tourism landscape.

Affordability and efficiency: The twin pillars of Turkey’s medical tourism

The allure of Turkey's medical tourism sector is significantly anchored on the affordability and efficiency of care, making it a highly attractive destination for individuals seeking medical procedures. According to Body Expert, a medical tourism agency in Turkey, their British and French clientele are drawn to Turkey for three primary reasons: cost-effectiveness, shorter waiting times, and superior treatment quality, especially in the dental field.

The cost advantage is a significant draw, particularly for procedures like hair transplants. The comparative analysis of medical procedure costs between Turkey and its Western counterparts reveals a stark difference. For instance, a hair transplant procedure that could cost up to £30,000 in the UK can be done for as little as £1,500 in Turkey. This substantial cost difference without compromising on the quality of care is a major attraction for medical tourists.

The long waiting times in state-owned healthcare systems like the NHS have been a growing concern. A report from the BBC highlighted that as of May, a record 7.47 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment in England, with some 385,000 people waiting for more than a year. This has led to individuals seeking alternatives to speed up the process, particularly for procedures like bariatric surgery. In Turkey, the waiting times are significantly shorter, providing a quicker pathway to treatment and recovery.

Patients are also drawn to Turkey for better treatment quality, especially in the dental field. The use of better implant brands and materials, coupled with the expertise of medical professionals, ensures a higher standard of care. Body Expert notes that dental care quality, including using better implant brands and materials, is a significant draw for their clientele.

The synergy of affordability, reduced waiting times, and superior treatment quality makes Turkey a compelling choice for medical tourists. The substantial marketing investments by agencies like Body Expert and its competitors further reflect the growth and importance of this sector, positioning Turkey as a reputable destination in the global medical tourism landscape.

Quality assurance and legal safeguards: Navigating Turkey's medical tourism landscape

The allure of Turkey’s medical tourism extends beyond cost-saving advantages to encompass the quality and standards of healthcare facilities. The country's pursuit of international healthcare standards is a testament to its commitment to providing superior medical care to both domestic and international patients.

Turkey's healthcare sector has significantly transformed over the last decade, becoming increasingly attractive to UK, US, and Canadian patients. The high-quality medical infrastructure throughout Turkey, including in major cities like Istanbul and Antalya, has left a positive impression on international patients. The robust healthcare system, supported by esteemed universities, research institutes, and significant investments in advanced technologies, has played a pivotal role in shaping a resilient, future-oriented health system.

The journey towards achieving global healthcare standards is marked by Turkey's pursuit of international accreditations. Healthcare establishments and professionals are required to adhere to stringent standards, ensuring the provision of high-quality medical care. For instance, practitioners selected by Body Expert Antalya must hold a compulsory International Health Tourism (IHT) certificate granted by the Turkish Ministry of Health. This certification guarantees adherence to all administrative and accounting procedures, comprehensive medical coverage designed for international patients, and proven language competencies.

Since 2017, Turkey has enacted comprehensive laws to protect international medical tourists better and sustain the growing medical tourism sector. These laws strictly regulate the health sector, health brokers, and private clinics involved in treating international patients. The legal framework ensures that medical tourists are well- protected and receive high-quality care during their medical journey in Turkey.

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