When talking about health tourism, celebrities like Steve McQueen and Farrah Fawcett come to mind as the first ones to popularize the trend. However, other celebrities have openly admitted to exploring the sector in recent times.
Hollywood actor Armand Assante reportedly underwent a surgery at a clinic in Croatia in 2018. Speaking of the surgery, Assange was quoted as saying; “I had four free days and I have decided to come to Croatia thanks to the top expert Nikica Gabrić in order to resolve my vision problems. I literally came from the plane to the clinic and in less than two hours I was examined and operated on. Now I have the perfect vision, better than at any time during the last ten years.”
The medical tourism industry continues to experience exponential growth on the account of millions of dollars pouring into the industry because of the celebrity pull that accompanies medical tourism. Lots of American celebrities opt for out-of-state procedures for several reasons, including privacy, and the need to undergo procedures that are yet to be approved in the United States. From Brazil to Croatia and Turkey, U.S. celebrities are constantly patronizing foreign medical facilities, and this celebrity pull is popularizing the concept among everyday Americans, which is now reflecting poorly on the American healthcare system. For most people who opt for medical tourism, they often quote lower costs, high standards of care, and professionalism as a huge reason for their decisions.
The Impact of Celebrity Pull
Health tourism utilizes celebrity pull as a means of advertising health tourism locations, as well as an endorsement for people to try out health tourism. The direct impact of celebrity marketing on the growing rate of health tourism is undeniable, but this impact is also largely an accidental advantage.
A lot of credit has to be given to the U.S. media which always finds its way of uncovering private procedures, as A-list celebrities rarely ever admit to seeking medical ops outside of the USA. Celebrity lifestyle and news has always played a major role in shaping American culture and spending decisions, so the impact on health tourism is not strange, but whether it is desired is another conversation altogether.
Health tourism expert and CEO of MAYCLINIK, an Istanbul-based medical facility, Hakan Yilmaz, reacted to this saying; “Media hype and news might get people to try medical tourism, but it is often the excellent delivery and professionalism that keeps people coming back,” he explains. “For most people who choose to come to Turkey for their procedures, they are seeking something different and something that feels like part of a vacation and so we offer that.”
“We transport our patients from the airport to our facility with luxurious vehicles, accompany them throughout the entire process, and provide care and free consultation support to our patients after the procedure, so there is a lot of work done at both ends to maintain this level of patronage,” He added.
In the United States, a hair transplant can cost well over $12,000 with a starting range of $4,000 for low-standard clinics. However, a similar procedure in Turkey costs an average of $2,500 at an average range of $0.55 to $1 per graft. This goes to show how cost is a major consideration for people who opt for health tourism, including celebrities and their fans.
The cost varies from facility to facility depending on the quality of their service and their location, however a consideration of the care standard and the opportunity to explore new places and have a vacation-style medical trip is always appealing and makes the cost appear more than reasonable. A medical trip is not usually associated with fun, but with medical tourism these two concepts intersect for the first time and this is certainly a huge motivator for foreigners who visit such places.
Commenting on the benefits of medical tourism as a vacation experience, Yilmaz illustrates the effort his team puts in to create a memorable health tourism experience for their clients; “Our clinic is very intentional about the experience we give our clients in terms of comfort. Everything about our practice is done with this in mind. For instance, our practice is central to a lot of the most visited vacation spots, so patients can enjoy lots of fun activities, and see the most magnificent locations and sights of Turkey before or after their procedure. These benefits tend to speed up the healing process and also make it appear less foreboding.”
With the increase in demand for the sector the question about sustainability has also started to become more pronounced as carbon emissions from travel have increased with medical tourism’s popularity. Speaking on ITBITB Berlin starting this week with its established medical tourism pavilion, Rika Jean-Francois, commissioner for Corporate Social Responsibility at ITB Berlin and in charge of the segment said: “Particularly after the Covid pandemic, medical tourism has played an important role in restoring health and well-being in society.”
“This segment is growing every year and keeping abreast with the latest findings and technologies,” she added. “We need to rethink before restarting and must cooperate at global level. As with all the other tourism segments, medical tourism must become more sustainable.”
What Happens After The Surgery?
Despite its challenges, the U.S. remains a highly ranked health care location with sophisticated technologies, practices and procedures. However, the most expensive healthcare system in the world is yet to leverage its position as a leading healthcare service to spike the growth of its medical tourism industry. Instead, the U.S. contributes to the growth of other medical tourism locations like Turkey, and Brazil, rather than positioning itself as a service provider for these aesthetic procedures in the methods used by other locations.
A typical aesthetic procedure experience for patients in the U.S. is seemingly treated like any other medical procedure for the most part. Patients rarely look for special treatment, privacy or any after-surgery therapy. This extra bit of attentive care for patients contributes to the foundational ethics of health tourism, which has helped in the growth of the industry.
A 2018 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWCPWC) regarding medical tourism indicated that the average spending per visit for a medical tourism was $3,000 – $10,000 per tourist. The majority of tourists came from Indonesia, with 600,000 people for the year, the USA was in second place with 500,000 going abroad.
A report from Glasgow Research & Consulting predicted that medical tourism market will be valued at $180 billion by 2025.
A lack of health insurance is the most common factor for medical travel, but the PWC report recognized that a patient’s need for accessibility, experience focused offerings and an increasing desire for high quality care was also significantly important.
“The combination of a positive experience and satisfied patients ensures the sustainability of a practice. We strive to satisfy all of our patients’ needs and to be with them throughout the healing and development process by providing rapid answers after treatment is concluded. This creates such confidence in our services and turns our patients into loyal clients. This after-procedure care is probably also responsible for our ever-growing list of clients.” Yilmaz opines.
With branches in Turkey and Germany, the health care provider is accredited by ISO, the Ministry of Health, and TURSAB, amongst others. The health care company has been featured in CNN Turk, where the founder and CEO, Yilmaz, has spoken extensively on the current state of health tourism in Turkey.
Whilst the health tourism industry of other locations continue to experience growth, the U.S. market ranks below the top 10 health tourism locations in the world by recent data. This is indicative of the current state of the industry in the U.S., and the potential need for a different approach to health practices in the country. The aesthetics sector however is one area that has recently rode a growing wave due to the impact of influencers and celebrities alike in the nation.
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