Medical tourism in Europe is growing at a rate of 12 - 15 percent annually, as people seek to avoid the exorbitant medical fees or long waiting lists in their home countries. There are an increasing number of clinics across central and eastern Europe, the Baltic states and southern Europe, which are getting excellent results in areas such as IVF, cosmetic surgery, bariatric surgery, laser eye surgery and dentistry. These rival and often exceed the quality of treatment available at home, so traveling abroad is no longer seen as the risky venture it once was.
Things to consider when choosing where to get treatment:
Safety & quality
If you know which procedure you want, then do your homework so you know what it entails step by step. You can then see whether the surgical techniques or technology used are the best available. You should always try and speak with the surgeon and armed with knowledge, it will be easier to ask the right questions, pick up on any red flags and compare and contrast with other clinics. You will also see if they speak sufficient English! Make sure you check the credentials of surgeons and medical facilities, check how much experience they have with your particular procedure and read patient testimonials. If possible, speak with people who have undergone the same procedure at the place you are considering. If you aren't convinced, move on. It's also a good idea to consult your GP and get a professional opinion on any treatment you're considering. Your GP can also forward your medical notes and monitor your recovery upon your return.
Money is obviously a big driver, but it should not be the primary deciding factor. Treatment that appears much cheaper than the competition should set off alarm bells as it may be sub-standard. You don't want to skimp on your health and well-being.
Third world countries are obviously much cheaper than Europe, however, you have to consider if the risks are worth it. If you undergo surgery and things don’t go well will you feel confident that your health is covered?
Clinics in the Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey, etc are generally state of the art, but if you are considering low-cost treatment in the former Soviet Republic, expect the hospitals to look rather drab and utilitarian and the bedside manner to be a little different to what you're used to. This does not detract from the skill of the surgeons and the quality of care, but it's something to think about if you value your creature comforts.
Ease of travel
Booking a medical procedure abroad is not the same as planning a long weekend away, but there are certain similarities. You need to look at flight time (the shorter the flight, the better if you're undergoing surgery), as well as the distance from the airport to hotels and clinics. You may have to spend some time in the destination on either side of your treatment, so choose somewhere that is affordable (hotel and restaurant bills quickly add up) and where you will enjoy whiling away a few days. If you need to make repeat visits, as is often the case with IVF, this is all the more important.
Select a nice tourist destination
When weighing up your travel location options consider choosing a place that ranks high with tourism. How would visiting a city such as Prague or Barcelona differ from a remote clinic in the countryside? If you’re going to be there for more than a few days, you’d likely want to take advantage of tacking on a few vacation days and make the most of your stay.
Top European destinations
The Czech Republic is a favourite with Brits, Germans and Russians. Along with Spain, it is the most popular destination for IVF treatment and allows anonymous sperm and egg donation. It is also popular for cosmetic and bariatric surgery. The quality of treatment and facilities are on par with those in the West, but it can be up to 50% cheaper. It is conveniently located in central Europe and easy to get to with budget carriers offering frequent direct flights. Accommodation and eating out is affordable, so a longer stay will not break the bank.
Hungary is known as the dental tourism capital of Europe. It has the highest number of dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world and they are renowned for their superior training and quality of work. Treatment is half or even a third of the price of the UK. Budapest is a short flight away and makes a great city break.
Spain's healthcare system is ranked 7th in the world by the WHO and it has the second largest number of accredited hospitals in Europe. It offers an excellent quality of treatment, short wait times and very competitive prices. There are frequent budget flights and accommodation available and with its sun, sand and sea, there are worse places to convalesce!
Turkey gets close to a million medical tourists every year and boasts top-quality accredited facilities specialising in eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and cardiology. Wait times are minimal and prices are around 50% cheaper. Turkey is a popular holiday destination, so there are frequent budget flights and plenty to see and do once you get there.
Poland offers high-quality treatment at low prices. Over half of the country's medical tourists travel for plastic surgery - breast implants specifically. Dental procedures are also very popular.
As medical tourism continues to grow as an alternative healthcare option, so do the destinations. Medical tourism doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you bear in mind the tips we’ve outlined, you’ll be sure to select a winning destination while not skimping on your health or well-being.
Contributing writer: Natasha Robinson