MEDICAL TOURISM TRENDS AND DESTINATIONS: INTERVIEW TO MERT AKKOK

Which are the main trends that are leading patients who choose to travel for their medical treatments? How has the sector evolved in the last few years? How can a country establish itself in Medical Tourism market?

Mert Akkok, general manager of B2B Encounters, will answer to these question

 

What is B2B Encounters and what are its objectives?

“B2B Encounters is a medical tourism marketing project. It is both the name of our company and our international b2b networking forum, which we have now organized eleven times in various major cities across Europe and the Middle East. In addition to facilitating professional networking in the sector, we run a variety of consulting projects. Most commonly we support European clinics in designing and launching their international patient service departments. As a small and agile team of experts from and specializing in different regions of the world, we leverage our comprehensive network of medical tourism facilitators to facilitate our clients in becoming active players in the industry.”

 

How has Medical Tourism evolved over the past few years? What kind of trends can be envisioned?

“There is the common perspective that it is a boom sector: a gold rush environment in which money can easily be made. Hence, we see all kinds of players from small clinics to regional entities and national ministries throwing their hat in the ring and earn easy money. A more sober assessment shows that it is a highly competitive market and one dominated by risks for those entering. One notable trend is a change in the way patients access clinics. Previously, it was common for patients to manage the whole process themselves, supported through their local physicians. It was common for patients to organize their own treatment and travel plans. Today, however, we see the rise professional facilitators, G2G agreements, etc. We can therefore say that the decision making process is still very complicated: we cannot speak of simplified buying processes in medical tourism.”

 

What is and what could be the position of Italy within this market? How is it perceived abroad as a Medical Tourism destination? 

“Italy as a destination for medical treatment has been unsurprisingly attracting more attention in the market as of late. Many Italian hospitals have started focusing on medical tourism and entering the market. One challenge many have faced is establishing the reputation of Italy as a destination for high-quality medical treatment. We ourselves at b2b Encounters had much to learn. Thus, I predict it will take Italy many years of focused and sustained effort to change the popular conception of Italy from a common holiday spot to a center of afford and high quality medical care. Italian hospitals will thus need to be patient and persistent. Based on what we have seen in the examples of Turkey, Malaysia and Korea, Italian clinics will need to commit significant and coordinated resources to establish Italy as a big player in the long-term. At the same time, Italy will have to address challenges it currently faces: complicated Schengen visa procedures, improving the professionalism of its services for international patients, etc.”

 

What are the strongest global Medical Tourism destinations and how do they build and maintain this leadership? 

“It is a difficult and questionable task to attempt a global ranking of any particular destination. It makes more sense to analyze the strength of players in particular geographic regions from the view of the patient. For example, for many Eastern Europeans, Germany is perceived as the top destination, whereas for Russians Israel can arguably be considered the most attractive destination currently. Thus, proximity, a common language and shared culture are also keys components of a patient’s reason to chose one destination over another. However, if I had to choose 3 countries, I would offer the USA, Germany and Israel as top destinations. It is interesting to note that none of these 3 destinations are price competitive or particular open to facilitator referrals. So, it is all about providing top-notch medical care. This is the first and most important criteria. Countries that invent methods and techniques and teach them to others have always led in medical tourism. So it is not only about nice weather, good location, cheerful service, etc. We must always remember our product is medicine.”

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