The international health tourism has increased in the last few years. Rehabilitation can play a significant role in improving healthcare tourism prospects. German experience in providing rehabilitation services illustrates the huge potential this sector holds in developing health tourism.
Rehabilitation refers to the most comprehensive restoration of health and abilities, following sickness, accident or injury in a clinic that has been especially conceived, qualified and assessed for the rehabilitation.
In Germany, prevention and rehabilitation have been regular features of a modern and overall medicine. With their vast experience in healthcare sector and in managing the multitude of qualified hospitals / clinics and because of great socio-political support they enjoy, Rehabilition-Clinics (medical park) offer high quality services in constitutional and rehabilitative measures.
In Germany, rehabilitation after an illness, an operation or an injury is an inherent part of the treatment. However, in most countries of the world, such a complex treatment after operations, injuries or accidents fine-tuned to the patients’ needs is not available. There are two kinds of rehabilitation: inpatient and outpatient treatment. The most common type is the inpatient rehabilitation.
Whether after a stroke, an accident, a heart attack or a hip or knee replacement—there are several medical procedures that need a systematic and comprehensive rehabilitation. Rehabilitation in Germany is an inherent part of the chain of treatment and guarantees for the ideal maintenance.
Scientific studies have clearly shown that inpatient rehabilitation—a stay in so-called rehabilitation clinics for several weeks—almost always has positive effect on the health of the patient. In other words, without rehabilitation lasting damage often remains because patient is often unable to train his skeletal muscle system as thoroughly as he could. A merely outpatient-based therapy is often insufficiently tuned to the individual diagnosis, especially if the patient is not following a individual therapy plan and is only looking for sporadic training or massages.
The patient needs to learn how to handle his disease and his responses to specific conditions so that further acute medical conditions are prevented and chronic disorders are controlled as far as possible.
Further, the patient should also be aware of his daily activities that need to be performed for the restoration of health based on his recent medical condition. This forms a basis for his complete rehabilitation and healthcare.
Medical Tourism in Germany
Historically, patients travelled to Germany for medical treatment. Russian patients knew several cities like Berlin or Baden-Baden from the tourist or political point of view. They knew about the quality of the treatment. In past, international patients came to know about Rehabilitation Clinics in Germany through their acquaintances in Germany or somebody who had studied in a German university.
But it took quite a while for most of the hospitals to recognise that there is a potential in this field. There are different kinds of patients: so called self-payers, people who are sent by their home country and those for whom the treatment is paid by a health ministry or some other sponsor and health insured patients. About ten years ago, the first agent showed up in the German market and initiated marketing of German hospitals in foreign countries. The focus was on self-paying patients. It was difficult for the agents because most of the German hospitals never needed marketing to receive patients.
German hospitals received their local patients through physician’s office, either by self-hospitalisation or, by emergency medical services in case of an accident. So, the German hospitals were very doubtful about spending money on marketing and also did not have the budget. On the other hand, the hospitals in Germany could see how more and more patients from Arabic countries were advised to come to Germany for medical treatment after September 11 by their sponsors or the health ministries. Since last 20 years and more, the US and UK were the first contact point for medical treatment of international patients. So, the interest for the German hospitals in this field went higher and the pressure on the political level rose.
Bavaria was the first German federal state to invest in large advertisement programmes to attract international patients. The Bavarian ministries, with its headquarters in Munich, published brochures in different languages (English, Russian, Arabic, Turkish and much more), showed the public benefit during their international political appointments with foreign countries and started sponsoring programmes for Bavarian hospitals and medical companies to get them to attend international exhibitions. Success came and other German federal states followed. Until today, Bavaria is still the number one choice for the patients seeking medical treatment.
Risks and opportunities
There are risks and challenges involved in the treatment of international patients: different mentalities, religions, nutrition habits, barrier of language. Further, the patients have to lay their lives in the hands of someone they have never seen before, and in a country they haven’t been to. They need to trust people without the chance to build up mutual trust in advance. Every hospital or clinic worldwide has to look into this subject, get prepared and establish necessary standards / procedures to be followed in the treatment of international patients. For example, it is essential to make a professional native language speaker or translator available to the patient during his examinations and therapies. Further, the hospitals need to advise the patients on all aspects starting from hospitalisation to routine problems.
Experiences have shown that some patients sponsored for treatment by health ministries or insurance agencies often exploit the sponsorers. For instance, a patient has the approval from his sponsors to get operated, maybe for a hip replacement. It happened that the patients took a chance and asked for more medical treatment, like whole check-up programme, examination of eyes, dental work and so on. This results in rise of costs and can end up in refusal of payment from the particular sponsor. So, it is very important to clarify all the points of treatment in advance; and it is even better to inform the sponsers about the approximate costs to the sponsor and get his approval for all the possibilities before the treatment starts. These efforts ensure that there is clarity among all the involved parties.
There is a huge scope for the growth of medical tourism. The countries around the world have the opportunity to prove their quality in healthcare and treatment. The world is getting global and by welcoming international patients, there is opportunity for each side to study the different mentalities, learn much more about people and their countries at social levels and to get and stay open-minded about people, no matter where they come from.
In Bavaria, the basis for all this is provided and everything is done to keep it this way. The hospitals and clinics are prepared to welcome anyone to help them stay healthy.
Hartmut Hain has vast experience in the field of rehabilitation as well as medicine. Before he took up his role as CEO of Medical Park, Hain was on the board of managers of the Rhön-Klinikum AG. He studied hospital and social management and is presently responsible for strategy, quality management, corporate communication, marketing and sales at Medical Park AG
Jasmin Porter has been working with Medical Park since 2004 as Key Account Manager for both national and international divisions. Earlier, she worked with the first German professional international health tourism organisation.