How has the medical tourism industry developed in Turkey?
MERİ İSTİROTİ In 2005, I was the Chief of the Healthcare Tourism Department at the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), and the Chief of the Committee for Medical Tourism at the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD), branding Turkey as the hub for medical services. We wanted to subsidize the marketing side because if you were going to a fair to introduce a product that you developed in Turkey, it was okay to be subsidized; however, if it was a service, the practice was not supported at all. In time, the Ministry of Health entered the game with its own facilities, such as teaching hospitals and universities. This is how medical tourism started in 2005, and the industry still continues to grow enormously. For Liv Hospital, medical tourism is very important because our focus and investments are not only for the 80 million people in Turkey, but the 350 million people around us. We know these focused specialty areas will attract patients from abroad. We are focused on countries in the Balkans, Eurasia, and Middle East, and we target high-risk patients.
DR. AYLİN YAMAN It is getting more and more important every day, not just for Güven Hospital but for all of Turkey. It is an important political issue now. Our health infrastructure is very good by regional standards, and we have well-trained staff and physicians. This is a national issue, and we have to work with the government. Ankara has the potential to be the center of Turkey's health sector. In terms of international patients, Istanbul still gets more as there are many more direct flights that go there. Also, it has a wealth of private and university hospitals. I think, however, that Ankara can be the center, as it is nearer than Istanbul to other regions. Day by day the number of direct flights to Ankara increases. The airports in Istanbul are full, and there are many delays and problems because of this. Ankara is not like that. I think that with the help of the Ministry of Health, Ankara could be the center within five years.
What are your goals over the next five years?
Mİ Our goal is to become a regionally recognized brand. Our preliminary investment for three hospitals was $350 million, and every year we focus on treating 100,000 outpatients at each hospital. If we increase the number of those at the end of five years, I believe we will be treating over 1 million patients in total. In 2013, we intend to finalize 4,000 surgical procedures, and after each new opening, which will be larger in size than our current hospital, the number of patients will grow even more. We want other healthcare professionals to talk not only about performing surgeries and treating patients, but also to rely on us as an educational site. Our strategy is to establish ties with sister hospitals around the region, support each other in terms of education, and provide sophisticated care. We are aiming to build international partnerships around the region. Health tourism is not only receiving patients from abroad—the flow goes both ways.
AY We hope to be the center of excellence for the region. This means not only for Turkey, but for the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe as well. We would like to go to other cities, but we don't want to be a chain hospital since chain companies and hospitals tend to lose control over their services. We are trying to expand our services first in Ankara, as there are areas that we cannot reach as the city grows, especially in pediatrics and other specialized services. We are also trying to expand into Istanbul, but we will only do this if we 100% committed. People know us in Istanbul because we treat a lot of VIPs, from politicians to actors. Our name is known. Compared to 10 years ago, when we were known primarily for our cardiology department, this is a big change. In conclusion, wherever we go, we will always give the service in a “center of excellence" manner, which can only be accomplished by retaining competent staff, at which we have proved quite adept.