Medical tourism and the opportunities for the Greek economy after the pandemic

Medical tourism can be a key driver for the development of tourism and the economy of our country in the coming decade. According to associate professor Vilma Karagianni, Greece has all the potential to improve its position in the industry: well-trained staff, infrastructure, quality services, security, a flexible legal framework (IVF) but also offers opportunities for vacations. Her entire article Vilmas Karagiannis* as follows:

“Medical tourism is defined as the form of travel outside the borders/region of origin that aims mainly at the use of documented medical methods but also at diagnosis, prevention, rehabilitation. Due to its non-seasonality, it can contribute to economic diversification and profitability by increasing employment, ensuring the provision of health care facilities with material resources and improving capital turnover.

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected medical tourism, especially in the 1st half of 2020 where the implementation of travel and other restrictions as well as the suffocating pressure of health systems led to postponements/cancellations of the transition of medical tourists.

However, it also introduced a new branch of medical tourism known as vaccine tourism and involved travel to destinations with an overabundance of Covid-19 vaccines. At the same time, the development of hybrid forms such as telehealth visits was observed where in the US an increase of 154% was observed.

Overall, it is estimated that medical tourism will recover fully and at a faster rate than all thematic tourism products to pre-pandemic levels, while the compound annual growth rate between 2022-2030 is expected to be 20%. Cosmetic surgery, cardiac surgery, orthopedic surgery, assisted reproduction (IVF), organ, cell and tissue transplantation and oncology are some of the top specialties worldwide. The IVF sector with consistently high flows showed particular “resilience” during the pandemic: the decrease in the number of medical tourists did not exceed 10%, a trend that was also observed in our country according to available data (Genesis data, 2022).

Countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore – which has one of the best health systems in the world – show some of the highest growth potential by combining low costs – especially the first two – with differentiation strategies (branding strategy in Singapore), private-public sector partnerships, established National Policy and certification of the Centers by International Organizations.

The existence of scattered and differentiated statistical data/methodological tools does not help to assess the relative position and dynamics of our country. Greece has all the potential to improve its position in the industry: well-trained staff, infrastructure, quality services, security, a flexible legal framework (IVF) but also offers opportunities for holidays. Suggestions could include:

– Emphasis on integration between medical, hotel and wellness/SPA services to meet new emerging needs (post-covid recovery)

– Development of partnerships and synergy of the private sector with public hospitals (e.g. University hospitals) with the aim of optimizing coverage of needs.

– Development of attractive medical tourism packages combining quality, economy and tourist activities.
– Monitoring, analysis and publication of data on: medical tourist flows, satisfaction indicators, readmissions, morbidity and mortality. Because more adequate information about Greece, especially in relation to other competitive countries with the primary attraction motive being low costs, would give a boost to medical tourism in our country.

– Finally, development of a coherent and comprehensive Medical Tourism Strategy with the cooperation of all involved agencies and actors which will include certifications of medical tourism centers and development of a National Medical Tourism Plan”.

* Vilma (Vilelmini) Karagianni is Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism Management at the University of Western Attica

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