Medical Tourism in Tbilisi, Georgia - technical analyst

Submitted 6 months 1 day ago by CultureWhiz.

Global expansion in the movement of patients and health professionals, as well as capital investment and medical technology, has resulted in the emergence of a broadly defined, quickly increasing, multibillion-dollar business known as medical tourism. Globally, the medical tourism industry has seen a surge of interest over the previous decade.

Common treatments done by medical tourists in Georgia

Dental Care
Cosmetic Surgery
Superlative Care
Reproductive Services (IVF, surrogacy, donations)
Alternative Medicine

Cost of medical treatments in Georgia

The following are cost comparisons between Medical procedures in Georgia and equivalent procedures in the United States:

COMING SOON

Governments throughout the world have anticipated enormous economic development possibilities in the emerging medical tourism industry. Additionally, medical tourism provides countries with lucrative foreign revenue, stimulating economic growth, the opportunity to participate in global healthcare, the opportunity to improve healthcare standards, the opportunity to advance the development of technically advanced and specialized medical services, the opportunity to improve knowledge exchange, and the opportunity to reverse the brain drain by retaining or relocating local healthcare professionals for political and social benefits. For these reasons, medical tourism has piqued the interest of Georgia's largest institutions.

Georgia, according to experts, offers tremendous potential and opportunities in both medical tourism and wellness tourism. The country's healthcare sector is undoubtedly competitive in a variety of medical services (cardio surgery, plastic surgery, and dentistry, to name a few); private clinics offer these services with high success rates, state-of-the-art equipment, experienced health experts, and extensive expertise. Additionally, the country is cost competitive in the aforementioned directions when compared to other regional medical tourism destinations such as Turkey and the UAE. Georgia, with its geographical location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, has the potential to develop into a medical tourism center for Transcaucasia and the region.

Tourism development is a focal point of the Georgian government's 2016 reforms. These measures are aimed at promoting sustainable tourist development of a high standard and transforming Georgia into a four-season tourism destination.

It is commonly recognized that medical tourism, in comparison to other forms of tourism, has unique characteristics that contribute to the sector's competitiveness:

a) Protracted patient stays (due to treatment-related services, time spent is more than with other tourist products, and some procedures need patients to travel to the country of treatment multiple times);

b)Typically, patients travel alone at random intervals: most frequently, they are accompanied by one attendant;

c) Health tourism incurs a greater particular expenditure as a result of the specialized services and tools required and the high labor demand;

d) Less seasonality; health tourism services are typically weather-independent.

Additionally, the overall number of international visitors arriving in Georgia (tourists, transit, and one-day visits combined) climbed at a CAGR of 21.7 percent between 2008 and 2017 and reached a record 7.5 million persons in 2017. The number of tourists visiting Georgia has risen dramatically in recent years. To demonstrate, international visitors reached 8.7 million in 2018 (a 17% increase over 2017) and 9,357,964 in 2019 (a 7.8% increase over 2018). (source: Department of Tourism).

Georgia's healthcare market is relatively unique in the world, as over 90% of hospitals and clinics are privately owned and operated. Georgia's system of financing universal healthcare cannot be considered profitable for the provider sector. According to the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health's statistical reference, the country had 273 hospitals operating in 2018. There were 15,909 beds in total, and the bed occupancy rate was 51.3 percent (187.2), indicating capacity underutilization. The same issue is emphasized in a 2020 research produced by Galt&Taggart, which shows that the average bed occupancy rate over the last six years has been 50%, declining to 49% in 2019. Additionally, the average length of stay in hospitals was five days, demonstrating how frequently ambulatory sensitive care conditions are treated in hospitals in Georgia. As a result, hospital administrators encounter difficulties raising funding to engage in quality improvement or new medical service growth. One of the most effective ways to address these issues is to expand medical tourism in Georgia.

Medical tourism in Georgia is still in its infancy. Private clinics' efforts to locate potential "source countries" and attract medical tourists are fragmented, unregulated at the system level, and entirely dependent on the hospital sector and intermediary firms, putting patient safety at risk and harming Georgia's image as a global destination country.

The University of Georgia conducted research to determine Georgia's potential and prospects in medical tourism, specifically in the areas of healthcare facilities, medical services, and customer service, as well as to identify barriers and challenges to the country's medical tourism development in the healthcare sector and at the system level (in the scope of a doctorate program). In accordance with the research objectives, a qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in the Georgian medical tourism industry was conducted: representatives of local and international medical tourism industry stakeholders, top managers of hospitals specializing in in-demand specialties (multi-profile, plastic/cosmetic, reproductive, cardiologic, dental, and oncologic specialty clinics), the president of the Medical Tourism Association, and the president of the MedTour Association.

Is Georgia poised to benefit from medical tourism?

The research found that 100% of respondents answered affirmatively to this question. Georgia, according to medical tourism facilitators and other responders, has a genuine opportunity to develop into a centre of medical tourism in the Caucasus area. Additionally, Georgia has created highly developed medical services such as cardiac surgery, plastic/cosmetic surgery, assisted reproductive services, and dentistry. The country boasts highly qualified specialists, which gives it a competitive edge in the Caucasus region and against post-Soviet Union countries. According to top executives of worldwide medical tourism facilitators, there are numerous good clinics in Georgia that can compete with Turkey's medical facilities in terms of healthcare quality and, more importantly, affordability.

At the moment, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, North Ossetia, and Ingushetia account for the majority of medical tourists. Recently, an increasing number of patients from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have arrived, and medical providers are attempting to recruit patients from Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and other Central Asian countries. According to the study's findings, the origin nations of medical tourists in Georgia vary by the type of medical treatment supplied. To illustrate, patients primarily come from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan for oncological and cardiosurgical services. Additionally, patients from Israel, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan (Actao region), Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Qatar seek cosmetic surgery and hair transplantation procedures.

The research sought data from respondent health facilities on the amount of international patients seen between 2017 and 2019. (three years, by country and by service type). However, only nine clinics were able to supply the needed information (seven multi-profile clinics and two reproductive clinics). According to this statistical study, the total number of patients from Russia was 9015 (33%), Azerbaijan had 8295 (30%), Armenia had 1589 (6%) and other countries had 8216 (31%). Clearly, regional migration is evident in Georgia.

However, the situation is different for providers of assisted reproductive services. According to statistical data, 23% of international patients seeking such services in Georgia between 2017 and 2019 were from China, 15% from the United States, 14% from Israel, 7% from Sweden, 4% from Australia, 4% from India, and 33% from other nations worldwide.

Patients primarily come from Israel, Qatar, and Kuwait for dental services. Opportunistic medical tourism is particularly common in dentistry, with travel firms giving tourists a package deal that includes treatment and travel to Georgia.

When asked what factors influence patients' decision to come to Georgia for treatment, all respondents stated the same thing: an ideal price-quality ratio. Patients from neighboring countries and post-Soviet Union countries travel here for a higher standard of medical care. Although the quality is higher in Turkey, patients prefer Georgia due to the higher expense of travel and treatment. For Armenian patients, cost is a determining factor in their travel decisions. Armenian medical services are well developed, particularly cardiology and plastic surgery, however treatment costs are higher (cardio-surgery is, on average, 50 percent higher in cost in Armenia). Georgia's legal environment for commercial surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization is more favorable.

The primary impediments to medical tourism development in Georgia were identified as Georgia's lack of global positioning as a medical tourism destination; a lack of standardization among medical service providers as a result of the government's limited role in regulating and monitoring medical quality; an extremely low number of internationally accredited providers in the hospital sector, which can result in low customer trust; and the absence of a strait.

Second-level barriers in the provider sector include the following: low levels of qualification and awareness regarding medical tourism among medical facility management; a lack of communication, collaboration, and cooperation among clinic managers involved in this direction; issues related to insufficient communication skills, operational incapacity, and flexibility of medical facility personnel; and delayed response or provision of a treatment plan (instead of providing in a timely manner).

Third-level barriers include a lack of cooperation and coordination between medical tourism mediators and medical facilities, owing to the small number of facilitator companies and agencies operating in Georgia's medical tourism market; and difficulties accommodating medical tourists' diverse religious and cultural preferences.

According to respondents polled, Georgia's regulations and oversight of medical quality are lax. In the hospital sector, there is a lack of standardization of medical services, with few incentives for providers and legislation to improve the quality of care. However, there were divergent views among respondents regarding international accreditation of medical facilities. Similarly, there was a disconnect between what the literature indicates about these requirements and how respondents perceived them. One-third of respondents believed that international accreditation was absolutely important for medical facilities in order to establish medical tourism in the country, while the remainder did not believe it was necessary. Only one facility in Georgia, MediClub Georgia, has been approved by the international accreditation organization JCI.

The following directions for development plan were selected based on the research findings and applying SWOT analysis:

1. Establishing the country's reputation as a medical tourism destination in target markets and internationally.

2. Developing and implementing targeted and niche medical tourism services.

3. Development and implementation by the government of a five-year plan for medical tourism development; and strengthening the government's involvement in the process.

Optimization strategy:

1. Coordinating the activities of clinics and hospitals to develop medical tourism;

2. Enhancement of medical service quality through standardization and accreditation;

3. Increasing medical personnel's communication and foreign language capabilities.

Strategy of diversification:

1. To conduct international conferences and information tours to raise awareness of the country's potential for medical tourism;

2. To expand into new market segments;

3. To boost internet presence in targeted markets.

Strategy of defense:

1. The advancement of air transport and the establishment of direct flights;

2. Development and enhancement of the country's general infrastructure;

3. To bolster protections for medical tourists.

The study's findings led to the following recommendations for the growth of medical tourism in Georgia:

1. It is critical to position and promote the country in key markets in order to establish Georgia's global recognition as a medical tourism destination.

2. The government must design an adequate strategic plan for medical tourism growth in order to bolster its role and engagement and to position itself as a leader in coordinating the efforts of diverse stakeholders.

3. The government should centralize regulation, monitor the quality of medical services, and standardize medical services. It is critical to accomplish this goal by establishing an accrediting system for healthcare facilities. Additionally, financial incentives should be used to promote worldwide certification of clinics.

4. There should be increased coordination and cooperation between medical tourism facilitators and healthcare facilities. Additionally, clinic management and administrative staff should be trained to strengthen their qualifications and awareness of the requirements and unique characteristics of medical tourism.

5. Cooperation between medical institutions and spa-resources throughout the country should be facilitated in order to combine the services of the two sectors.

6. To increase the accountability of statistical data on medical tourists, medical facilities should be required to record information about foreign patients in a predefined manner.

7. It is critical to build direct flights with target nations in order to develop the medical tourism sector.

To summarize, Georgia has significant development potential for medical tourism. Its healthcare sector is extremely competitive in the region, and the country has the potential to develop into a hub of Transcaucasia medical tourism. However, there are a number of substantial obstacles and tasks to overcome. Georgia, as a medical tourism destination, should be promoted internationally. This goal, in turn, requires the concerted efforts of a government team and other industrial parties. A medical tourism development strategy should be established and implemented taking into account all of the barriers, challenges, and considerations described above.

Given the industry's tremendous competition on a worldwide scale, experts believe it is prudent for Georgia to define its role and carve out a niche in the international market.