The low cost and high quality of medical care in Turkey is seeing the growth of health tourism, and a new industry body is looking to guide the sector's future prospects.

As health costs in major Western markets soar, patients are looking abroad to have their medical needs met, and Turkey is looking to be a key provider in the international medical services field. The concept of medical tourism has been a popular one for over a decade, though has only recently received industry support in Turkey, despite the growing importance of the sector. In 2010, Turkey earned an estimated $850 million from health tourism, including surgical procedure, accommodation, and other costs, according to the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK).

TurkStat estimated that some 103,400 foreign patients came to Turkey for medical procedures in 2003, spending some $91 million on treatments alone, while the same figures for 2009 were at 132,680 and $225 million, respectively, showing significant growth. The difference between spending on medical treatment alone and on patient accommodation costs while “on holiday" are where the real value-adding lies.

A typical health tourist tends to do more than just arrive and have a procedure performed—preferring to stay for a few weeks to take in the sights, recuperate, and spend money in the local economy. Equally, such higher-value patients can help the bottom lines of the private hospital groups in Turkey, as well as encourage the establishment of a more sophisticated medical sector, which will improve healthcare standards for the public as a whole. The foreign patient wins as well, receiving world-class care at a fraction of the price at home, especially for elective procedures and cosmetic surgery.

A new industry body, the Health Tourism Business Council (SAİK), formed under the auspices of DEİK, was set up in 2010 to help better coordinate growth in the sector. SAİK's main goal, according to DEİK's chairman, Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, is to help increase the number of foreign patients coming to Turkey to 500,000 by 2020, and earn the country a potential $20 billion in revenue. The main markets targeted so far include the US, Western Europe, the Middle East, and the Gulf, with the latter seen as particularly promising considering its geographic proximity, rapid population growth, and high average income levels.