Medical Tourism Looks Sick as Patients Watch Their Spending | Trip

Attila Knott has an empty dental hospital in Hungary. The foreigners with bad teeth he counted on never arrived, deterred first by COVID-19 and now a cost-of-living crisis that has left the medical tourism industry struggling to recover, even after the lifting of pandemic travel restrictions.

“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 intended to open the new unit in March 2020 to serve more patients seeking procedures in Hungary at a cheaper price than at home.

Now, with the number of patients halving from around 600 a month before the COVID hit, he’s considering turning to colonoscopies and knee 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 electricity bills”,


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.


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 Nordorthopaedics.

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 job, what choice do I have?” he said.

Patients who need vital dental work done will move forward, whatever the cost, Kreativ’s Knott said.

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

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Catherine Evans)

This story was published from a wire service feed with no changes to the text. Only the title has been changed.

Medical Tourism Looks Sick as Patients Watch Their Spending | Trip

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