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The forgotten medical tourism destination

The forgotten medical tourism destination

An article by medical tourism specialist, Ian Youngman, on one of the world’s leading destinations for medical travelers which seems to have been forgotten in the “new world” of medical tourism.

Where is it?

In the days before the phrase “medical tourism” had not been invented….before San Jose, Seoul and Budapest had even thought of seeking patients from overseas, and when there were no agencies or trade bodies promoting medical travel, there was a major medical tourism destination.

With scores of hospitals and clinics all within a short distance, the experts would now call it a medical hub and suggest myriad ways, for a hefty consultancy fee, that it could become rich and famous. They would probably tell it to cut prices to boost more trade, sponsor some conferences, and form a local medical tourism association. It is not a “medicity”. It began and continues with no national or local promotional body, doesn’t involve itself in medical tourism politics, and politely resists calls to promote cut-price surgery campaigns.

It is a leading medical travel destination. Estimates suggest that solely counting people who go there for medical treatment, it would rank twelfth in the country ranking for inbound tourism. If it used the same counting methods as some of the top ten countries, and also included non-residents and seasonal residents who happen to have medical treatment while there for business or pleasure, it would easily be within the top ten countries that treat international patients.

And if its success were to be measured on patient revenues rather than patient numbers, then it would probably make it into the top five due to the high revenue per case and complexity of the cases that it deals with.

The number of medical tourists to this destination is increasing. Most of these patients pay full price in some of the world’s best hospitals and clinics. It gets much of its business from repeat custom and referrals by friends/ family/ colleagues. Most importantly, it has been a medical travel destination for almost a hundred years.


So, where is this forgotten destination?

If you have not guessed by now, it is of course London. London now vies with New York as the world’s most multi-cultural city.  There are residents, visitors and medical staff of all nationalities, creeds and colours. As well as UK nationals there are many people on short or long stays, on holiday and on business, plus international residents with second homes there. Separating those who only come to London for dental, cosmetic or surgical treatment, to have a baby or a health check, is a statistical nightmare. London is one of the few places that really can say that most patients come for a mixture of treatment, holiday, culture, business and shopping.

Very few medical travel agencies promote London as a destination. This is partly because London has none of the usual attractions for agencies. Firstly, it does not offer cut-prices. Secondly, hospitals and clinics are less willing to pay commissions or fees to agencies for patient introductions, and few have any dealings with medical tourism agencies. Patients themselves may choose London on the basis of reputation and recommendation. In some cases, patient choice may be directed by a sponsoring company, health office or government ministry overseas.

One thing you do not see with London is “Come to us as we are cheaper”. (Although London treatment prices may well be attractive to those within the US healthcare system). London’s focus is on reputation and results and quality of care and treatment.


Some examples of London’s medical tourism experience

10 % of the London Bridge Hospital‘s patients come from overseas, and most of them are for complex surgical operations. The hospital has always had many patients from the Middle East, either paying privately or funded by their government. Patients are met at the airport, accommodation is organized for relatives, and transport to and from the hospital is arranged every day. It has Arabic television, interpreters, special menus, and an international patient services department.

Dr Asif Chatoo, a typical London dentist with a UK and international patient base, told IMTJ; “We find that about 15% of our patients who attend the clinic live outside the UK. This is an increase from about 2 years ago of 9%. They mostly come from Eastern European Countries (Russia mainly) and the Middle East .I specialize in lingual orthodontic treatment. Although lingual orthodontic is now widely available it is difficult for patients to find an orthodontic dentist who has the experience and confidence in using lingual orthodontics; so patients come to our clinic from abroad.” IMTJ  asked why he thought  people go to London for cosmetic dentistry?, “ We have developed a reputation as offering a very high standard of treatment and care. People will travel to London for treatment, not because it is cheaper or they can have a holiday at the same time, but because they are looking for excellence with little compromise. After all they are trying to change their smile, which is a very valuable commodity. It is difficult to put a price on a beautiful smile.”

The London based Patient Advisory Service (PAS) is not tied to or owned by any surgeon, clinic, medical or financial organization. PAS only works with selected London consultants or specialists and only deals with cosmetic surgery. It does not take an arrangement fee from the clinic, surgeon or patient. It is not a medical tourism agency, as it arranges nothing, and merely suggests which top London surgeon is most suited to a particular patient. PAS gets funding from surgeons for offering a 24 hr support service to patients that may include professional counseling, clinical duties such as removal of drains, sutures and dressing changes. No fees or add ons are charged to patients for any advice, information, hospital or home post op check visits.

Farjo Medical Centre is the UK’s and one of the world's leading hair transplant clinics.  The centre was established in 1992 by husband and wife team, Dr Bessam Farjo and Dr Nilofer Farjo. They consult with their patients in London's Harley Street. The centre has earned an international reputation for not only using the latest hair transplantation techniques but for placing significant emphasis on developing pioneering ways to counter hair loss. Thousands have travelled from Europe and as far as the Middle East, Australia and the United States, to London’s Farjo Medical Centre.


Profile of the author

Ian Youngman

Ian Youngman is a writer and researcher specialising in insurance and health. He writes regularly for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and on-line services. He also publishes a range of insurance reports and undertakes research for companies. An ACII, with an honours degree in Economics from the University of Liverpool, Ian was a co-founder of The General Insurance Market Research Association. He also has widespread experience within the insurance industry at management level, working for brokers, a bank and an insurance company.


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