FOCUS-Medical tourism is slow to recover as patients watch their spending

Attila Knott has an empty clinic he planned to open as a dental hospital in Hungary in March 2020. But the foreigners with bad teeth he hoped to treat have been put off by COVID-19. The high cost of travel and economic uncertainty have emerged as concerns for some potential patients since travel restrictions were lifted, he said.

The global medical tourism industry, a beneficiary of low-cost travel and open borders, is struggling to recover from the blow it took during the pandemic, operators and analysts say. “People are more cautious,” Knott told Reuters, looking at the empty building across the street from his Kreativ Dental clinic. “They think twice about spending a lot of money all at once on something like dental work.”

The entrepreneur will now open in the spring with the financial support of the Hungarian government as a clinic offering not only dental implants but also other minor surgeries, the company said in a statement to Reuters on March 17. replacements. For years, traveling abroad to clinics in countries such as Hungary and Turkey has been an option for British and US patients facing long waits, high costs or both for dental and medical procedures at home.

Operators were hoping for a quick recovery after travel restrictions were lifted. But inflation fueled by rising energy and food prices since the war broke out in Ukraine a year ago has left people with little money to spare, especially for cosmetic procedures.

In Hungary, which borders Ukraine, the war itself is making foreigners wary, Knott said. Rising airfares and fewer flights – and the memory of last summer’s travel chaos – are also driving potential patients away, clinic operators and analysts told Reuters.

For some trips, like those to Turkey, airfare can cost twice as much as it did in 2019, according to WeCure, which specializes in medical tourism to big cities like Turkey from countries like Britain. WeCure said flights, ground transfers and gasoline now make up around 15% of the cost of its travel and treatment packages, nearly double their pre-COVID proportion, putting pressure on overall prices.

Some clinics, facing their own higher costs, raised prices. A hip or knee replacement at Nordorthopedics in Lithuania is about 15% more expensive now than it was five years ago, the clinic told Reuters. “There will be some tradeoffs (for customers),” said Emre Atceken, CEO of WeCure. “Instead of having a hair transplant. I’d rather pay my gas bills. I’d rather pay my light bills.”

CREDIT PROCEDURES To encourage clients, some clinic operators are offering pay-as-you-go options, while crowdfunding has emerged as another source of support.

Atceken said WeCure is offering some customers to pay in installments to stretch the cost. Lyfboat, an Indian company that provides medical services to overseas patients, told Reuters it collaborated with a fundraising platform called ImpactGuru to help patients pay for essential surgeries.

Some carriers are targeting patients in Britain and Canada, where overstretched public health services can mean long delays. Knott said most of his patients are from Britain and Iceland, while fewer come from other Nordic countries and France.

Linda Frohock, 73, from Staffordshire, said she had postponed retirement, taken out a bank loan and used her savings to travel to Budapest for dental implants. She paid £8,000 instead of the estimated £32,000 the procedure would have cost in Britain.

“If it’s an emergency and only here could do it, then I wanted them to. Somehow, you just have to find what you need,” she said. ACUTE VS ELECTIVE

The International Medical Travel Journal, published by market intelligence service LaingBuisson, estimates that the medical tourism market is currently worth around $21 billion, less than it was before the pandemic, although editor Keith Pollard warned that the data is poor. . With around 7 million medical travelers per year, the IMTJ sees 5% to 10% annual growth as realistic – far less than some projections.

Laszlo Puczko, who runs Budapest-based Health Tourism Worldwide, said clinics specializing in urgent procedures would weather the economic climate as even clients feeling the financial pinch will pay. But those who competed on price for elective treatments like rhinoplasty will have a harder time surviving, he and others said. “Orthopedic surgery is something you can’t put off if you have severe arthritis and can’t walk. It’s life-changing major surgery,” said Vilius Sketrys, who directs sales and marketing at Nordorthopedics.

Bob Martin, 71, decided to pay around £18,000 for new dental implants at Kreativ. A retired nurse manager for Britain’s NHS, Martin’s adult teeth never erupted and he struggled for much of his life with dentures. “If I need to do the work, what choice do I have?” he said.

Patient numbers have been increasing at Kreativ Dental since pandemic restrictions were lifted, the company said. The number of patients increased by 40% in January and February, although it was still down by almost half compared to the same months in 2020, data provided by the company showed. Patients who need vital dental work will move on, Kreativ’s Knott said. That means more patients at the clinic are coming in for more expensive and complicated procedures that can’t be delayed, he said. “The quality of patients is much better,” he said.

“These people usually don’t negotiate. They sign everything we put in front of their noses,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

FOCUS-Medical tourism is slow to recover as patients watch their spending

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