Boom in medical tourism in peril


Medical tourism in Israel will total NIS 160 million in 2008, compared with NIS 100-110 million in 2007, according to a study by The Center for Academic Studies at Or Yehuda.

The survey claims that 48 percent of the patients came from Eastern Europe, mostly Russia and Ukraine; 37 percent came from Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, and other neighbouring countries; and, 14 percent came from the United States and Western Europe.

Sixty-five percent of the patients came to Israel for complex or risky surgical treatments and 35 percent came for various cosmetic treatments.

This contradicts long-standing figures from the country’s tourist board that the main market is Germany. The economic crisis is expected to reduce the number of cosmetic surgical treatments of foreign patients in 2009. Recent attacks on Gaza will make Westerners wary of planning trips in a country at war.

Widely circulated press reports on the study omitted certain crucial information that throws serious doubt on the study’s accuracy.

Although there are over forty medical tourism and travel agencies promoting medical and health tourism, and scores of hospitals and clinics seeking business, the study only interviewed 100 patients in three centres;  Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), and Tel Hashomer Medical Center.This very unscientific sampling technique shows yet again why you have to be very wary of widely circulated reports on country statistics.

Russia is increasingly becoming the major source of tourists to Israel. Tourism from Russia has grown steadily since September, when Israel waived its visa requirement under a reciprocity agreement with Moscow. The two countries launched direct charter flights from Eilat to Moscow and St Petersburg just last month.

To date, the Israeli government has taken no action to promote or to curb medical tourism and has allowed the industry to develop undeterred and unregulated. According to government spokespeople, 15,000 foreigners came to Israel's hospitals for treatment in 2006. The number of foreign patients grew to 20,000 in 2007. The figure for 2008 is expected to be 30,000.



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