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Healthcare Tourism in Italy?

Dental care in Eastern Europe (Croatia and Hungary), Hepatitis C. treatments in India, assisted procreation in Spain and gender selection in Cipro. These are some of the most popular healthcare tourism destinations. Italy is now willing to step into the market.

The country is planning to capitalise on its recent ranking as the world's healthiest nation in the Bloomberg Global Health Index of 163 countries, as well as underlining the added all-round benefits of Italy's culture, tourism and Mediterranean diet. The idea is to promote Italian medical expertise to private patients from non-EU countries. According to Italy's minister of foreign affairs Angelino Alfano the non-profit Health in Italy network - a concept which originated at Rome's Policlinico Universitario Campus Biomedico - could result in an increase in health turnover of over €5 billion a year.

Medical and health tourism in Italy is promising but it requires coordinated and targeted action to allow the growth of this system of innovative activities, something Italian authorities have often struggled with.

Nevertheless, Italy has great potential. The country offers quality treatment in neurology, cardiac surgery, oncology, bariatric surgery, and orthopaedics.

Information on inbound and outbound medical tourism numbers is very scarce. Local sources suggest that as few as 5,000 foreigners seek treatment in the country compared to 200,000 Italian patients who go abroad. Foreign patients in Italian hospitals mostly come from Switzerland, Russia, Albania and the Gulf.

The University Hospital of the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome has got together with local hospitals and hotels interested in medical tourism to jointly promote their services to international patients. Local hospitals including Rizzoli in Bologna, Niguarda Hospital in Milan and Health City of Turin all offer interpreters, medical records in the patient’s language, nurses available at night, shuttle services to and from the airport, rooms for relatives, agreements with major hotels.

Today, Italy has a low profile inside a competitive health tourism global scenario. The number of incoming patients is very low (less than 5.000 per year), but there is a high potential with a 30% of yearly increase. European top inbound countries (Germany and UK) don’t perceive Italy as a competitor and this could drive Italy strongly into the sector. 

New education strategies, new synergies and regulations will be needed from the Government, and private health entrepreneurs will need to invest energy in this business.

Giulia Lombardo

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