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The Warsaw Voice » Society » August 2, 2010
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Patients Without Frontiers
August 2, 2010   
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Health ministers from all EU member states have approved a directive on patients’ rights, commonly known as the “Patients Without Frontiers” directive, which opens new prospects for so-called medical tourism. Under the directive, European patients will be entitled to reclaim the cost of medical services they obtain outside their home countries. In other words, EU citizens will be free to choose the country in which they want to be treated.

The “Patients Without Frontiers” directive enables patients to undergo treatment abroad, pay for the medical services it involves and then ask the national health insurer back home to pay them back the money. But patients can only claim the equivalent of the cost of such services in their home country. Patients will have to pay the remainder themselves.

The new directive may provide a major boost for what is known as medical tourism, that is, a combination of active forms of recreation and medical services. Fast-paced lifestyles prevent many people from taking the time to take care for their own health. Vacations become a perfect opportunity to undergo a minor medical procedure that does not require long hospitalization.

The health care systems in many countries of the “old” EU are overburdened, making it difficult for patients to get in quickly to see a specialist or to undergo a complicated procedure at a low price. Meanwhile, Polish clinics and hospitals have earned themselves a good reputation abroad, which draws a growing number of foreign patients. Those who paved the way several years ago were foreign visitors seeking inexpensive dental services in Poland. Polish dentists are the most popular among visitors from Britain, Germany, Denmark and the United States. Westerners come to spend a couple days in Poland during which time they treat themselves a “general dental overhaul,” including dentures and dental implants. This year, a total of 200,000 visitors are expected to use medical services in Poland. This only accounts for 1-2 percent of all tourists for the time being, but the number keeps growing and is expected to treble by 2013.

What mainly encourages foreigners to take a medical trip to Poland are the prices, at least 30-40 percent lower than in Germany or Britain. A visit to a dentist in £ód¼ in central Poland can be up to 10 times cheaper than in London. According to the Treatment Abroad website, a dental implant in England costs £2,000 on average, while the same implant will cost the equivalent of £750 in Poland, £827 in Hungary and even less in Turkey.

Medical tourism has developed into a well-organized industry. In Britain, specialized companies handle formalities on behalf of their customers and sign contracts with dental clinics abroad. Poland is also gaining popularity among medical tourists from Germany, according to a report compiled by Technikerkrankenkasse, a German health fund. Most of the German medical tourists are pensioners who back in Germany cannot afford to pay extra for services like expensive dentures. Half of them receive pensions of less than 1,500 euros a month. Polish physicians and dentists are the most popular among senior citizens in the eastern part of Germany. Germans also travel to obtain medical treatment in the Czech Republic and Hungary, combining such trips with sightseeing and vacations in local health resorts.

Health care in Poland is inexpensive for most European citizens and Polish clinics target foreigners in their advertising. Several dozen Polish clinics have formed the Medical Services Chamber of Commerce (IGTM), realizing the potential to rake in profits from medical tourism. Along with dentistry, the most popular medical services in Poland include plastic and cosmetic surgery such as liposuction, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, abdominoplasty—more commonly known as “nose surgery” and a “tummy tuck”—and surgical correction of the eyelids and earlobes. Foreign patients also come to Poland to undergo orthopedic operations, general surgery vascular surgery and even neurosurgery, but those services are somewhat less popular.

Visitors to Poland are also fond of Polish health resorts and sanitariums. In terms of the number of such facilities in this country, Poland is seventh in Europe. Polish health resorts are increasingly popular with Germans, Scandinavians, Italians and the French.

The main attractions of Polish sanitariums include professional medical staff, the high quality of treatment and invariably attractive prices. Polish health resorts also offer treatment using natural ingredients such as therapeutic mud, which is no longer available in, for example, Germany. Many foreigners also frequent Polish spa centers and beauty clinics.
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