Germany sees decline in medical tourism – DW – 10/24/2022

Germany is one of the most popular medical tourism destinations in Europe. Its orthopaedists, cardiologists and surgeons are particularly appreciated by international guests. “Rare disease patients want the best possible treatment, and for that they can consider traveling to Germany,” says Mariam Asefi, who heads a medical tourism research unit at Bonn University of Applied Sciences. Rhein-Sieg. She says getting treatment in Germany also has an element of “prestige”. In addition, economic factors such as currency stability also play an important role in people’s decision to travel to Germany.

Doctors in green coats operate on a person.
For some, going to Germany for medical treatment also means emphasizing their social statusImage: Steffen Schellhorn/IMAGO

A global industry

Medical tourism has been growing for years, boosted by globalization. The United States, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey are among the most popular destinations for medical tourists. Much like Germany, partly because of its reasonable healthcare costs. In 2020, more than 65,000 foreigners from 177 different countries came to Germany for medical treatment. Most European guests came from Poland and the Netherlands, while most non-European patients came from Russia, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.

Decline in the number of Russian patients

Although the German healthcare sector enjoys an excellent reputation, the number of international patients has fallen in recent years. There have been far fewer Russian tourists traveling to Germany for medical treatment, says Mariam Asefi. In 2020, the number of Russian patients fell by more than 30%. This decline, however, was partially offset by an increase in the number of patients from EU states and Arab countries.

German hospitals have taken a financial hit. The University Clinic of Fribourg, which runs a unit specifically dedicated to the treatment of non-European patients, recorded a marked drop in admissions. Pandemic-related travel restrictions were largely to blame. In 2020, more than 1,000 international patients were treated at the University Clinic Freiburg, while this number fell to 800 in 2021. Most of these people were from Ukraine and Russia.

A vacant hospital bed.
German hospitals have seen fewer and fewer international patientsImage: Jens Büttner/ZB/dpa/picture alliance

German hospitals are moving away from medical tourism

Several German hospitals started moving away from medical tourism even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Speaking to DW, a spokesperson for Düsseldorf University Hospital said his clinic stopped targeting foreign patients years ago, adding that this source of income was no longer particularly important to the hospital. hospital.

The Vivantes hospital group in Berlin has experienced a similar development. In March, the group closed its Vivantes International Medicine unit, which specifically catered to overseas patients, in light of falling demand, which they said made the unit financially unviable. In 2020, less than 1,000 non-EU citizens sought medical treatment there, compared to around 1,200 per year from 2016 to 2019.

Uncertain future ahead

It is unclear whether and to what extent medical tourism will rebound in Germany following the COVID-19 pandemic and with the continuing war in Ukraine. Mariam Asefi of the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences remains optimistic nonetheless, telling DW: “I support medical tourism, including in Germany, especially in these times of globalization.”

This article has been translated from German.