With quality and cost-effective treatments Cyprus has great prospects in attracting medical tourism, says Marinos Soteriou MD, but with increased competition it is crucial to create attractive services and packages.
Is Cyprus on the medical tourism map? What key advantages does Cyprus offer medical tourists?
There is great potential as Cyprus offers a very high standard of care at affordable prices, our geographical location offers a lot of advantages and our good cultural relationships with other countries are a real asset. Being an established tourist destination, Cyprus also offers great opportunities to combine holidays with medical treatments. Medical tourism is the buzz word of today. Due to globalisation and the ease of travel, more and more destinations are making their presence known as medical tourism locations and are trying to recruit patients worldwide, and Cyprus is no different in this respect. In my view we are not quite there yet and must work diligently to put Cyprus firmly on the medical tourism destination map.
We are seeing an increase in this trend and the number of foreign patients coming to Cyprus and the prospects are good to further develop this segment, especially following the introduction of the patient mobility act within the EU. Patients from other national health care systems could easily be recruited to come to Cyprus for treatments. Offering procedures that are cost-effective and faster to carry out provides Cyprus with a competitive edge and is also an opportunity for foreign national health care systems to decrease their long waiting lists.
How should Cyprus promote itself and what is needed to ensure success in the development of this segment of tourism?
It is very important to identify what your expertise is and what you can offer as a medical tourism destination. Of course Cyprus in general can offer a wide range of medical treatments and services, but medical tourism is about promoting an image and we should be ‘known for’ offering the best in very specific services. We should only offer established procedures to medical tourists and avoid scientifically controversial treatments.
The financial turmoil Cyprus has gone through over the past year has had an impact and we are still seen with a level of suspicion, now with the dust settling it is crucial we rebuild our image and restore confidence in the country. In order to create a new industry and develop this segment of tourism successfully, it has to also be a strategic goal for the government. In the same way Cyprus created the support system, infrastructure and incentives to promote the country as a business centre, it has to create the necessary infrastructure for new industries and be invested in promoting them. This is the key to success and has been proved by other countries, such as India, which has managed to create a thriving medical tourism industry.
Cyprus could be extremely successful in this field as we are well-placed strategically in terms of medical tourism. We are part of Europe yet very close to Africa and the Middle East – we are in good terms with Israel and the Gulf States as well as the wider Arab world and can act as an intermediary for everyone’s best interest. In addition to our existing force of highly qualified medical professionals, Cyprus should also recruit more medical talent and create more strategic alliances with major medical institutions and universities internationally to expand our offering and expertise. This would only strengthen our standing as a centre of excellence for medical care, both for the local population and for medical tourists.
You are not only a heart institute, but a medical centre. What are your key services and where do the majority of your patients come from?
We started as a heart centre, but expanded our services and now provide a wide range of treatments such as spine, liver, orthopaedic, plastic and constructive surgery as well as general surgery and interventional radiology. A lot of our services can be put under the umbrella of oncology services. We are always looking at ways to improve the care we provide and have many new therapies that are less invasive and demand only a short hospital stay, which are ideal in terms of medical tourism.
We cater to the Cypriot market, but also have patients travelling to us from abroad. Current medical tourists that come to us are often patients seeking specific procedures that are not offered by their local health care systems. For example, we are seeing patients coming from Israel, where certain procedures are not offered due to either political or financial reasons. The proximity of Cyprus to this region is an added benefit for patients, as we are accessible with only a short flight time.
We also have a new procedure available for men who suffer from benign prostate hypertrophy. Until now these patients had to take various medications to control the condition, however with this new procedure we can pin point the exact vessels that are causing the problem and block them. Effectively a person suffering from this condition can fly to Cyprus, have the treatment and fly out the following day and not have to depend on medication. There are also new ground-breaking treatments for cancer patients that are more targeted and have fewer side effects.Treatments like these, which are fast and cost-effective, are ideal to promote to medical tourists. We need to find ways to fully accommodate the patients’ needs to develop this kind of tourism.
Your establishment has made great strides as a state-of-the-art private hospital, how do you promote yourself and what is your recipe for success?
There are many ways of promoting yourself as a destination or an individual facility for medical tourism. Naturally the quality of the medical care you provide is the most important factor. Independent reviews and testimonials are also important as patients often want to hear about the experiences of other patients, but there are various additional aspects that can boost your success. For example, we offer a range of additional facilities such as a library, a gourmet chef, private gardens, helipad and a multi-faith prayer room. In today’s world having patient rooms with Wi-Fi is becoming a must, as many people need to tend to work matters while in treatment or want to keep in touch with their loved ones. We can accommodate one relative per patient, but cooperate with local hotels offering special rates for people accompanying patients.
We chose to invest heavily in green energy, which is an integral part of our corporate and social responsibility agenda. We have been awarded as one of the most important ‘green buildings’ in the EU and this in turn has given us some exposure to promote our health services too. We are now trying to convert the centre into a zero energy building, which is a feasible challenge thanks to its sustainable design. Creating a medical centre that is harmonious with nature, takes in the views and allows ample natural light inside, achieves a comfortable and relaxed environment for our patients. The design of the centre springs from the philosophy of the common root of the words ‘hospital’ and ‘hospitality’. You should feel better walking into a hospital, not worse. This is a building designed to accommodate patients’ needs and to help recovery after treatment.
These kinds of factors are often overlooked, but are increasingly important if you want to compete in the field of medical tourism. Patients looking to go abroad to get treated spend more than the average tourist and with so many great options today, they do their research before deciding where to invest their time and money. Being able to provide additional comfort and services could be the deciding factor.
What opportunities does medical tourism in Cyprus offer potential foreign investors?
Cyprus has many areas of potential that could be further developed. For example, rehabilitation centres and treatments are a natural extension to our existing services. Rehabilitation in an environment like Cyprus, with its great climate, could be ideal for Scandinavian countries, which have longer and colder winters. Cyprus could also be very interesting for any major medical establishment wanting access and proximity to the Middle East, but to remain within EU territory, whether in terms of building something of their own in Cyprus or collaborating with existing facilities. Projects like these could create a lot of turnover and boost the creation of a new industry in Cyprus. We are also open to foreign investors and alliances with international medical institutions, as this can further raise the standard and range of care that we are able to offer. The development of Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) could be another concept to package our health product in Cyprus, but this would require the involvement of large organisations to be successful.
What advantages are there for foreign doctors choosing to bring their patients and procedures to Cyprus?
There are multiple benefits for doctors from abroad to come to Cyprus with their patients. Operating in Cyprus they can take advantage of the tax benefits we offer and with Cyprus’ friendly and beautiful environment, they can combine business and pleasure by also holidaying with their families while here. For doctors from Israel and the neighbouring Arab-speaking countries, Cyprus offers the proximity and possibility to treat patients outside of their borders. In some of these countries there are also certain conditions that may be taboo, such as male infertility or sexual dysfunction, and it may be easier to go abroad to seek treatment. Cyprus is in an ideal position to cater to these types of cases. Our establishment also provides facilities for foreign doctors and their patients to come to Cyprus. These kinds of strategic alliances are also a good way to further medical tourism.
How do you see Cyprus developing in regard to medical tourism in the next five years? What does AHI want to achieve in this time?
The significant natural gas find and the country’s international business community as well as the renewed hopes for a Cyprus solution, could also give boost to medical tourism. However, ensuring that the high quality of health care is maintained and offering a solid convenient product are crucial to success. Failures in these areas can be detrimental to these efforts and deflect badly on other establishments locally that invest heavily in maintaining high standards. For our part, we hope to contribute to these efforts by developing a successful model that others can simulate or expand on to help establish a thriving medical tourism industry in Cyprus.