Turkey attracting more patients, minister says
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Eye surgery is one of the most popular health tourism fields in Turkey, along with plastic treatments, heart surgeries and dental operations.
Turkey has gained a good seat in health tourism, hosting 500,000 foreign patients in 2010, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdağ said Friday.
“Preliminary research shows about 500,000 patients visited our country [to receive health services in 2010],” the minister said. He also said most of the patients came from Middle East and European countries.
Robotic surgeries, open-heart operations, medical treatment of eyes and teeth as well as prosthetic applications were the major health services received by foreigners in Turkey last year, Akdağ said, according to a report by the Anatolia news agency on Friday.
“The private sector will mainly provide services [to the foreigners]. We are also developing capacity in some [public] hospitals.”
There has been a growing trend in health tourism in Turkey for the last decade, Meltem Depecik, the press representative of Medicana Health Group, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday. The country’s geographical position, high medical technologies, qualified staff and competitive prices for health services are the main factors for this, she added.
Health tourism in Turkey has accelerated after the Arab Spring, Kamil Yüceoral, chairman of the Health Tourism Association, told the Daily News in a Friday interview. Citing that Jordan was the country’s largest rival in health tourism, he said foreign patients started to prefer Turkey to Jordan after turmoil started in the latter earlier this year.
“Turkey became the premiere choice of Arab and Middle East countries,” Yüceoral said. The number of health tourists from European countries, particularly the U.K., has not decreased either, he added.
Yüceoral also said the Health Ministry should not evaluate health tourism figures according to the number of foreigners visiting Turkish hospitals. “When tourists come to Antalya to enjoy the hot weather in the winter, this is also considered a type of health tourism.”
Health tourism is a global, 3 billion-euro market, Yüceoral said.
Akdağ said they would soon increase the university quotas for medical students. The number of students accepted to medical faculties yearly was increased from 5,000 to 8,500 two years ago. “This figure must reach a level of 12,000. If we reach this contingent, we will have some 200,000 physicians by 2023.”
Regarding the ratio of the number of physicians per population, Turkey currently ranks third from the bottom in Europe, according to Akdağ, who said this would improve if the new contingent was added.
An alternative to the gap for physicians in Turkey could be bringing foreign physicians from abroad, Akdağ said. “We must make a legal reform regarding employment of foreign physicians,” he said, adding that if Turkish doctors were working abroad, foreign doctors also had to be able to work in Turkey.
It is crucial to keep foreign medical students in Turkey, the minister said. There are about 3,000 foreign students studying in medical faculties in Turkey, according to Akdağ. “Some of them are already working illegally in certain places. Why should this happen?”
Non-Turkish physicians are not allowed to work in Turkish hospitals or other health institutions, according to the current legislation. Akdağ said such a rule should be lifted and foreign physicians should be allowed to work in Turkey if they know the language.
The necessary legal changes in this respect will be brought to the parliament as soon as the new parliamentary session starts, Akdağ said.
*Nurdan Bozkurt contributed to this article from Istanbul.