TRIP TO TURKEY: HOW I ENDED UP AT A MEDICAL TOURISM CONFERENCE IN PAMUKKALE, TURKEY

October 7, 2017

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Pamukkale
Clad in Ankara for the conference

How in the world did that happen?

Trust me, I asked (still ask) myself the same question too. I am not a medical doctor. Neither do I have any medical degree or background. However, I found myself at a medical tourism conference in September. How does a travel blogger/content creator end up at a medical tourism conference? Isn’t that supposed to be for Doctor’s, health professionals or people in the Medical Tourism business?

I’ll be telling tales if I said it was some sort of miracle, it wasn’t. But it was not intentional either. It was not something I looked for. I did something that made them see value in me and I was offered the opportunity to travel to Turkey for the conference. I wrote a feature story. One I’ll never forget.

This trip to Turkey was a trip to remember, full of many firsts; first time in a hot air balloon, first time paragliding, first time visiting my now favorite city in the world, first time seeing the famous Pamukkale pools, first time striking four items off my bucket list in one trip, first time away from my daughter, first time solo traveling and the list goes on…

Para gliding
Paragliding across the Pamukkale travertines. Right after this, I puked! (this will be an entirely different post)

I’ll tell you all about it later but first, let’s get to what Medical Tourism is and why the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council is spending millions putting their world class facilities on the map!

What is Medical Tourism?

So it’s a great thing I’m not a Doctor. I’ll be able to explain things to you without the medical jargon’s. If you remember, back in March, I did a feature on Medical Tourism and interviewed Dr. Dayo Sobamowo of Hermes Consulting. He’s the Nigerian Country Director for the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council. You can read his feature here. He’s one of the few Doctor’s in Nigeria who offers medical tourism facilitation services to Nigerians. I’m not talking about situations where your GP recommends a hospital in the U.K or U.S to you. He’s a Medical Tourism practitioner who has sought and established relationships with reputable hospitals all over the globe. There are levels to this.

Medical tourism is basically moving from one place i.e your country of residence, to another country to seek and spend money on healthcare. Initially, Medical tourists only referred to people from developed/developing countries that travel to countries for better care and facilities not available in their country. Now a medical tourist means everyone that travels from his or her country to another for medical treatment.

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Pammukale
Dr Dayo (Nigerian) x Amin (Iranian) x Me (Nigerian)
Photo for posing purposes. I do not know how to ride a bicycle 😂

No doubt, the US has one of the best medical facilities in the world. However, according to this article on Voice of America, over 750,000- 1.8 Million US residents leave the country for medical reasons yearly due to high costs of treatments and surgeries . Mexico is a hot destination for American medical tourists because of the low cost of surgeries and its proximity to America.

A tummy tuck will cost you $6,000 compared to $8,800 in the U.S. A facelift will cost $8,300 in San Miguel…in the U.S. it will cost you $12,500. – Huffington post.

Bringing it back home, Nigerian medical tourists seek medical care for better treatment and access to better facilities. Getting care abroad is usually 10 times more expensive but people that have disposable (sometimes non disposable) income do not mind. Patients no longer have trust in the healthcare system. People seek medical attention abroad for things as basic as a skin rash or an eye infection. No jokes. Popular destinations for Nigerian medical tourists include India, the U.S, U.K and UAE.

In the last couple of decades, due to lack of investment in health care in our country, we have had a brain drain, where we have lost a lot of our good doctors. Currently, we are suffering from patients’ drain, where there is a lack of confidence in the sector, and people are now leaving for medical tourism, where we lose over one billion dollars annually. – President, Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, HFN, Mrs. Clare Omatseye.

All in all, whether you are from first world or third world country, once you leave your primary abode and head to another country for medical care, either because the facilities in your country are sub par or you are seeking a cheaper alternative or you want to combine your treatment with a vacation, you are a medical tourist.

Who is a medical tourism practitioner and why do I need one?

A medical tourism practitioner is a professional often with a medical background who has received further training in the field of medical tourism. It is also critical for this professional to have legal agreements  and relationships with renowned international clinics, hospitals and doctors.

Every medical traveller needs a Medical Tourism (MT) practitioner for the following reasons:

1. Ability to negotiate significantly cheaper medical bills due to their long standing relationships with international hospitals and doctors: In other words using the right MT practitioner will get a patient cheaper treatment than approaching an overseas hospital directly.

2. Ability to schedule faster treatments and consultations for patients: All renowned overseas hospitals cater to a high volume of foreign patients on a daily basis and are therefore either unable or slow to respond to individual enquiries from intending clients. The right MT practitioner is however able to get very quick turnaround time with the hospitals due to long standing relationships and agreements with these hospitals.

3. Ability to arrange discounted flights, ground transport, tours and hotel accommodation for medical travellers.

4. Ability to screen and vouch for the integrity and capacity of  overseas hospitals in dealing with all individual medical cases: This is possible because a MT practitioner only works with a network of pre-qualified hospitals and doctors. A lot of medical tourists have been harmed or lost their lives  as a result  of going to substandard hospitals.

Why Turkey?

Turkey via the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council has gone rogue with putting the country on the medical tourism radar. In 2005, the council was established “to strengthen health tourism activities and to unite the national efforts to bring more patients to Turkey from around the world”.

The main objective of the Council is to improve the health of people in other countries by coming to Turkey for medical treatment. The overall goal is “to strengthen the health tourism activities and to unite the national efforts to bring more patients to come in as well as to promote Turkey as a new health destination for the patients around the globe. – Turkish Healthcare Travel Council

The strategy is/was simple.

The first part was to highlight and promote many destinations within Turkey that are ideal travel spots such as Istanbul, Cappadocia and the Mediterranean coast that is a popular hub of the Turkish Riviera. However, the ambitious plan of action also targeted themed travel such as adventure sports, religious tourism, and more importantly the health sector. -Turkey Homes

The ancient city of Hierapolis. The Romans built this city around the Pamukkale spa pools.
Thermal pool with “red” mud at the Pam Thermal Hotel. Sadly I did not get to take a dip in this spa pool.

They understand the importance of rehabilitation and recreation and as the health facilities are improving, the touristic components are too. When foreign tourists come into the country to receive healthcare, they want to offer a lot more than healthcare. Promoting Turkey’s cultural heritage, natural wonders, sites, and art will increase the amount of days medical tourists spend in the country.

Overall, three factors can be contributed to the rise in medical tourism. In some countries like the UK, people wait months for extensive dental treatments while choosing to go private in Turkey means they undergo the work in the same week. Time plays a big part in luring potential travellers to get the procedure over and done with.

The same also applies to cost. Other countries often have high running costs for businesses and extensive regulations, while in Turkey; many industries have received tax-free benefits allowing them to pass the savings onto customers.

Lastly, in some countries like Libya, the standard of medical services is not as high as Turkey. If people have money, travelling abroad for treatment of a higher standard is an acceptable thing to do”. – Turkey Homes

Turkey has gotten a lot of traction in Medical Tourism and the country made the list on CNBC’s article titled “Top destinations for Health Tourism”. Turkey is already a popular destination for European tourist and many European and American trained doctors reside in the country. In comparison with their European counterparts, private hospitals in Turkey are more affordable. You get affordable medical care with a good vacation!

Getting acquainted with the wonders of thermal therapy.

The conference, which held at Denizli, was the 2nd International Thermal Healthcare Travel Summit. Thermal Health Tourism is a niche in a niche. I got acquainted with the wonders of Thermal therapy and had a thermal bath every night before I went to bed. It was such a stress reliever and it made me sleep like a baby.

Thermal Pool
Thermal Pool at Richmond Thermal Hotel
I was here every night right before bed.

Thermal therapy dates back to thousands of years ago and millions of people visit Pamukkale to experience this wonder. The Romans first discovered the healing powers of thermal pools and built the city of Hierapolis right by the Pamukkale pool. These thermal treasuries come from tons of different springs and the temperature ranges from 36-125 degrees Celsius.
There are over 1,000 thermal pools all over Turkey and Pamukkale is number one thermal destination in Europe. The thermal water and mud from the water has healing properties. It has been used to cure rheumatism, sciatica, rehabilitation from orthopedic and neurological problems, diseases in skeletal systems, gynecological diseases, removing seizure and hardness in body parts after surgery. Thermal therapy can also be used to cure insomnia and revitalize cells in hair, nail and skin. I hear the water can be drunk too but I would not be trying water everyone baths in! 

Red mud. Looks pretty orange-y to me
Exercise session for the elderly. Looks like synchronized swimming
Enjoying the wonders of the thermal spring.

The Nobel Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation center was one of the hospitals we visited. We had an extensive tour of the hospital’s facilities. The marketing manager of the hospital shared the services they offer and a few success stories. Click here for more on Nobel Rehab center.

This red mud can either be used as a cold or hot press. The mud is applied to the affected parts of the patient’s body and he/she is wrapped in transparent film.
The thermal spring and Nobel Rehab center are in the hotel premises
Pam Thermal
View from the patient’s wing at the Nobel Rehab Center. They operate an open space clinic where patient’s can see each other and no one is isolated or in an enclosed space.
This is how hospitals should look.

Turkey can provide affordable and quality health services with a shorter waiting period. It takes 1 hour to get to Turkey from 4 countries and 4 hours form 54 countries. There is currently a spending of 500 billion on health tourism. As for Thermal Health tourism, there are over 260 facilities in Turkey with 1,728 hotels. Our vision is to rank among the top 5 in the world. In 2023, we intend to provide healthcare facilities for 2 million medical tourists.

I heard this over my translator during one of the sessions at the conference. Though Turkey is rated a top medical tourism destination, the Turkish Government through the Healthcare Travel Council is not stopping there. The medical tourism drive of Turkey is highly commendable. All the speakers had one clear message; we have the natural resources but we need your help to make it work! 

Read the first part of the Trip To Turkey Series here

*This post is sponsored by www.hermesconsulting.org. Hermes Consulting facilitates medical travel to Turkey as well as popular destinations for Nigerians e.g U.K, US, Germany, India, Spain, Brazil, UAE, Thailand, e.t.c. The CEO, Dr Dayo Sobamowo, is the Country Director for the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council. For more enquiries, kindly send an email to dayosobamowo@hermesconsulting.org or call +2347055340842.

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By Nomad Supreme

Welcome to the go-to spot for adventure seeking Nigerians 👣👣👣! 👻: @naijanomads 💌: travel@naijanomads.com

8 Comments

  1. Reply

    Wakagirl

    This is really nice
    Been seeing a lot of people go to turkey for medical tourism

    1. Reply

      Nomad Supreme

      Yes to turkey for medicals. It works our cheaper for Nigerians and they have state of the art fscilities

  2. Reply

    10e

    This is a very enlightening post, sheds light on medical tourism which was quite positive. As Nigerians we know that the health sector isnt where its supposed to be i mean in some areas its deteriorating however we still have hope as some progress is being made in others. From a doctors point of view it is really great to know that there are professionals in Nigeria in this field that can help patients through the process of choosing the right facility for treatment. Giving you options and Its sure would cut down wait time as well as cost. If I may ask if a patient went through a a MT professional do you get some kind of Health insurance cover? Also I do love that Turkey prioritizes Post operative care and rehabilitation. I sure will be recommending Turkey to people that can afford it. Great post NN.

    1. Reply

      Nomad Supreme

      I think that was the biggest take away for me, the rehabilitation part. And its a smart move too + more money for their economy when patients stay longer after medical care

  3. Reply

    Unravelling Nigeria

    Well done. Very impressive and I can’t wait to go to Turkey and experience all of this.

    Kudos to them for driving medical tourism in a unique way.

    Mad you didn’t bring back some thermal water for me though. LOL

    1. Reply

      Nomad Supreme

      Yes you need to experience it yourself. They even have spa tourism where you are pampered for an entire week. From turkish baths to thermal pools to massages! its crazy

  4. Reply

    Kin Ndoh

    This is absolutely amazing! Thank you for taking us with you on pictures to enjoy the exploration of Turkey through your lens!
    Here are my thoughts on medical tourism (Speaking as a physician and global health expert who has had experiences in both Nigeria and the United States).
    1. There are many reasons that drive Americans to other countries to seeks medical care: (according to Department of Health reports in the U.S, over 720,000 Americans seek healthcare each year abroad). The cost of healthcare is prohibitive in the U.S even with insurance, the co-pays could still be very expensive. Meanwhile in other neighboring countries like Mexico, similar procedures or interventions with same outcomes can be done for a fraction of the cost. Americans that know this save cost and travel to this countries for certain healthcare needs. Furthermore, there are certain procedures that are not yet approved by the FDA in the U.S, that have approvals in other countries in Europe or China, a lot of times these could be life saving procedures or procedures that significantly improve the quality of life, so rather than remaining on pills, an American would take the chance to seek cures in this countries that already have these procedures approved.

    2. Medical tourism can greatly be curbed in Nigeria when there is a strong political will to fix our healthcare system in Nigeria. It is estimated that India alone gulps close to $1 billion from Nigerian seeking care there. Imagine if we had hospitals that could perform same procedure in Nigeria – I bet that people would be willing to sink in such monies in their home country. The capital flight is enough, and with redirecting such funding back to the system, will do nothing than to grow and strengthen the healthcare system. We have to look inward in critically examining the fundamental causes of brain drain and capital flight….starting there would give Nigeria a road map on fixing these problems then and only then would Nigeria attract such capital from others who would want to seek care in a now streghthened Nigeria health system!

    1. Reply

      Nomad Supreme

      Your comment is giving me life Dr.K! Thank you so much for this. The political will is so important because truth be told i’m sure Turkey did not start off this way. Its clearly an intentional effort from the people and the government to put their healthcare system on the map and move it to international standards. Its clearly working!

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