Germany sees decline in medical tourism – DW – 10/24/2022

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Germany is one of the most popular medical tourism destinations in Europe, with its orthopaedists, cardiologists and surgeons particularly popular with international clients.

“Rare disease patients want the best possible treatment, and for that they can consider traveling to Germany,” says Mariam Asefi, who heads a medical tourism research unit at Bonn University of Applied Sciences. Rhein-Sieg.

She adds that getting treatment in Germany also has an element of “prestige”. In addition, economic factors such as currency stability also play an important role in people’s decision to travel to Germany.

Doctors in blue-green coats operate on a person
For some, going to Germany for medical treatment also means emphasizing their social statusImage: Steffen Schellhorn/IMAGO

Global industry is affected

Boosted by globalization, medical tourism has been growing for years. The United States, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey are among the most popular destinations for medical tourists.

Germany too, partly because of its reasonable health costs. In 2020, more than 65,000 foreigners from 177 different countries came to Germany for medical treatment. Most European guests came from Poland and the Netherlands, while most non-European patients came from Russia, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.

Although the German healthcare sector enjoys an excellent reputation, the number of international patients has fallen in recent years.

There have been far fewer Russian tourists visiting Germany for medical treatment, says Mariam Asefi. In 2020, the number of Russian patients fell by more than 30%. This decline, however, was partially offset by an increase in the number of patients from EU states and Arab countries.

German hospitals have taken a financial hit. The University Clinic of Fribourg, which runs a unit specifically dedicated to the treatment of non-European patients, recorded a marked drop in admissions.

Pandemic-related travel restrictions were largely to blame.

In 2020, more than 1,000 international patients were treated at the University Clinic Freiburg, while this number fell to 800 in 2021. Most of these people were from Ukraine and Russia.

A vacant hospital bed
German hospitals are seeing fewer international patientsImage: Jens Büttner/ZB/dpa/picture alliance

Uncertain future

Several German hospitals started moving away from medical tourism even before the coronavirus outbreak. Speaking to DW, a spokesperson for Düsseldorf University Hospital said his clinic stopped targeting foreign patients years ago, adding that this source of income was no longer particularly important to the hospital. hospital.

The Vivantes hospital group in Berlin has experienced a similar development. In March, the group closed its Vivantes International Medicine unit, which specifically catered to overseas patients. This was due to lower demand, which they felt made the unit more financially viable.

In 2020, less than 1,000 non-EU citizens sought medical treatment there, compared to around 1,200 per year from 2016 to 2019.

It is unclear whether and to what extent medical tourism will rebound in Germany following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as with the continuing war in Ukraine.

Asefi nevertheless remains optimistic, telling DW: “I support medical tourism, including in Germany, especially in these times of globalization.”

This article has been translated from German.

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