Guest patient boom is a fizzle

Hospitals have to rethink their strategies

"The world at home in German hospitals" - that was the hope of many German hospitals which wanted to attract well-heeled foreign patients to bolster their budgets. The high expectations of the business model "guest patient", however, were disappointed as a sobering study of the Sozial- und Seniorenwirtschaftszentrums GmbH (swz/IHT) conducted in the framework Health Care Export Projects shows.

Photo: Guest patient boom is a fizzle
According to the study, in 2004 a mere 50 000 foreign patients came for in-patient treatment to German hospitals, most of them in North Rhine Westphalia and in Bavaria. 80 percent of these patients, however, did not check-in of their own free will but rather needed emergency treatment. The number of patients that came for a specific therapy is only 11 000 - a very disappointing result indeed.
The figures indicate that luxurious rooms, VIP service and tourist sights alone do not attract foreign clients – an assumption corroborated by the fact that only 675 financially most promising “de luxe” patients from the Arab emirates found their way to German hospitals.
For those who did opt for a German hospital “proximity” played a major role. Thus North Rhine Westphalia benefited from Dutch and Belgian patients, Bavarian hospitals recorded predominantly Italian and Austrian patients. Moreover, socio-cultural considerations came into play as the rather high number of Turkish patients (2 000) indicate: due to the fact that in some regions, for example in North Rhine Westphalia, a large percentage of the hospital staff is Turkish, language and cultural barriers are removed and the patients feel well taken care of.
A third criterion which influences the choice of hospital is the international reputation of the physician in charge which in most cases means that the physician is specialised in treating certain conditions or in using certain procedures. „Top medicine“ no doubt attracts foreign patients.
Specialised hospitals in the regions
If congenital heart diseases require treatment, foreign patients entrust themselves to the medical know-how to be found in Berlin; Hamburg is renowned for total endo prostheses and in North Rhine Westphalia the focus lies on the treatment of epilepsy and chronic cardiovascular diseases.
This indication-based specialisation might in fact offer a solution to fill the empty “de luxe” beds in German hospitals and in the end turn the concept “guest patient” into a success story. Solutions and strategies will be on the agenda at the Hauptstadtkongress in Berlin (20 -22 June), the leading German health congress. The Sozial- und Seniorenwirtschaftszentrum will also present and discuss its guest patient study in Berlin.

Background information:
Health Care Export: The Health Care Export Project aims at designing, establishing and marketing international healthcare networks. The project is being funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research.


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