Belgium medical tourism: Most medical tourists to Belgium are Dutch


The number of Dutch patients who travel to Belgium for medical treatment is increasing. Particularly for orthopaedic treatment of hips or knees; and also for heart surgery, caesarean sections and hysterectomies. The Dutch have been going to Belgium for medical care since the 1970s. In the Netherlands there is a six months wait for a hip replacement, but no delay in Belgium.

Belgium also gets signicant numbers of hospital patients from Germany, France, UK, Italy and Luxembourg; with much smaller numbers from Spain, Poland, Romania and the USA. The total number has risen 18 % from 2007 to 2010. 2012 and 2013 figures will not be available until 2014 and 2015 respectively. These are not all medical tourists.

The 2012 report from the “Observatoire de la mobilité des patients” covers the years 2007 to 2010. In 2010 Belgium welcomed more than 46,000 patients from neighbouring countries, and these figures do not include the thousands who go to Belgium for dental treatment or cosmetic surgery. 30,000 of the hospital patients in 2010 were from the Netherlands, compared to 26,000 in 2007.

The reason the Dutch cross the border is to avoid the long waiting lists typical of their country. The number is expected to rise due to the new EU rules on cross-border healthcare that Belgium and The Netherlands are both expected to implement this year, and the increasing number of Dutch insurers doing cross-border deals with Belgian hospitals on volume of patients for low prices; health insurance is compulsory for all residents in the Netherlands and people choose from a range of insurers who compete on service but not on price or cover.

The Observatory on Patient Mobility was set up by Inami and the FPS in 2011 to measure the impact of overseas patients on local hospitals and to ensure that the waiting lists for Belgian patients do not increase with the arrival of foreign patients. So far, locals have not faced delays while the arrival of foreign patients “provides hospitals with money and as most patients come for complex operations it keeps surgeons busy and up to date."

Care has to be taken with the figures, as they are not just medical tourists. The figures embrace all ‘non-residents’ so include temporary expatriates, holidaymakers, and business travellers.

To confuse matters more, the figures above are only hospital inpatient figures, and do not include day-cases. For 2010, the total number of non-residents was 28,690 inpatients plus 158,762 days for day-cases (days, not patient numbers). Most patients go to Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges or Hasselt, all of which are also major tourist destinations.

In percentage terms, 60% come from the Netherlands, 20% from France, 4.5% from Luxembourg, 2% to 3 % each from the UK, Italy and Germany, 1% from Spain and less than 0.5% from Romania, Poland and the USA. When delving into the detail of the report the latter low numbers are almost all travellers and short-stay expatriates, while many of those from the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg are medical tourists. The Poles and Romanians are temporary migrants.



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