Medical tourist is understood by us as foreign patients who is visiting other country with the aim to use medical treatment. It can be considered as an additional income source by means of privately paying patients, even though in some instances the costs can be covered by insurance companies in the country of origin. (This is possible, if the social security systems are sufficiently coordinated with regard to directive orders and regulations.) Generally, medical tourism means “travelling abroad with the intent to make use of medical treatment for the purpose of preserving life, enhancing the quality of life or improving one’s appearance; because of lower cost, better quality or the inaccessibility of some procedure at the place of residence (resulting from a lack of personnel, knowledge, technical equipment and procedures, or long waiting times or legal limitations) often combined with sightseeing the visited place”
The advantages of this kind of tourism affect not only medical clinics, but also many other service companies in the region. This is because the patients are likely to use many other services, not only medical ones. The selection and intensity depends on the health situation of the patient. For private clinics and hospitals medical tourism can be regarded as a new option of development. Well-functioning medical clinics are also one of the elements needed to build a “health region”, which is then also a useful tool to increase the competitiveness of the whole region.
It is difficult to estimate the size of the medical tourism market. One of the problems with collecting reliable data regarding medical tourism results from the fact that the main group of people from abroad coming to Poland to make use of medical treatment are actually Polish citizens living abroad. They pay privately for their treatment and often not even the clinics are aware that many of their patients are actually international patients. Other problems with collecting good data is due to the clinics’ and patients’ reluctance to share information about their own health. (especially if the medical treatment is a beauty procedure or is forbidden in the country of origin) The scope of medical tourism is very broad, which makes an exact definition and hereby also a precise estimate of its size difficult. Especially regarding one-day treatments and “medical wellness” there is much debate, whether these should be considered as medical tourism or not.
Medical tourism in Poland
In summary the Institute of Research and Development of Medical Tourism estimate that in 2016 the total number of medical tourists in Poland was approximately 155,000. Considering that the number of nights of tourist accommodations rose at 7% in 2017 compared to 20163, and due to the investigation of the preparation services for foreign patients (which has shown that ever more clinics are very well-prepared), we can estimate that in 2017 about 172, 000 medical tourists came to Poland