Turkey as a medical tourism destination: IVF

Turkey as a medical tourism destination: Cost-advantage, specialization and subsequent quality improvement in medical tourism hubs

Medical tourism has become an important mechanism of obtaining medical care services and it is estimated that total value of medical tourism has become more than $100 billion per year. The number of patients travelling internationally will continue to increase with lower effective travel cost, improvements in quality of care in “medical hubs”, and the cost-advantage of obtaining services elsewhere. The flow of patients is not unidirectional; patients flow from developed to developing regions, between developing areas as well as from developing areas to developed economies. A number of factors affect the size and direction of the flow. Turkey is now competing with other regional hubs to develop its medical tourism industry. Since medical tourism focus on services that show little or no decline in value with delayed receipt of services, it is not surprising that dental care, cosmetic surgeries, etc. are being promoted. The purpose of this study is to better understand the factors associated with increased popularity of medical tourism in Turkey.

To better understand the process of development of medical tourism for specific type of medical care, this study examines one specialized intervention, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), as the case study. In the past few years IVF has become an important medical tourism service for Turkey and analysis of its development can indicate how medical tourism evolves within a “hub” and how it can lead to development of other services for increasing the demand for general medical care by foreign patients. Cost of medical services in Turkey is only about 30% of the costs in Western Europe and the USA but the high demand for IVF services is not due to cost-advantage only; the success rate of IVF is found to be higher in Turkey than in the USA. Therefore, after correcting for the success rate, the cost-advantage per successful case becomes even higher. Over the last few years, quality indicators of Turkish hospitals in major medical tourism cities are also showing significant improvements implying that Turkey is moving towards creating significant comparative advantage in medical tourism.

This research indicates that most medical hubs like Turkey are going through rapid changes in their domestic medical care markets. Turkey has been successful in maintaining significant cost-advantage per unit of service provided compared to the cost in developed countries. Despite relatively low cost of care, the quality indices are showing significant improvements. In this case study we observe that the success rate of IVF has become better in Turkey than in the USA. If this trend of lower-cost but high quality continues, demand for medical tourism is likely to expand at a very rapid rate. In fact, higher level of medical tourism will be welfare improving for all and should be encouraged.

(will be presented in Health Economics Congress in Australia)

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