TBY talks to Doğan Sarban, General Manager of Bayındır Health Group, on the opening of a medical center in Istanbul, the development and possibilities of the private healthcare sector, and the health tourism industry.

Doğan Sarban
Between 1983 and 2008 Doğan Sarban worked at Turkey’s İş Bank Group in various positions, including as branch manager, board member, Vice-President of three firms in the group, and NPL Department Manager. He later worked as President of Ant Gıda before returning to İş Bank as a branch manager. He later became the General Manager of Bayındır Health Group.

The Bayındır İçerenköy Hospital in Istanbul is the latest addition to the two existing Bayındır hospitals in Ankara and one Medical Center in Istanbul. Why was the decision made to open the hospital in Istanbul?

Firstly, we are in the İş Bank Group, and İş Bank provides unlimited health support to its employees . Istanbul is our major center of operations, and so it makes sense that we are here so that we can better serve them. Secondly, the İş Bank Group always wants to be a player in the health sector. In order to do that you must have a presence in Istanbul. The two Bayındır Hospitals in Ankara—Söğutözü and Kavaklıdere—were established in 1992 and the Medical Center here in Istanbul started in 2009, and the latest step—but not the last—at İçerenköy, Istanbul took place in 2010.

Why is İş Bank interested in the health sector?

The first motivation is social responsibility. As a large group we feel an obligation both to provide quality care for our employees and to contribute to the quality and availability of health care in Turkey. The second motivation is business. Turkey has a growing population and a growing economy, so naturally this is a growth sector. But business is not the only thing.

Can you tell us about the facilities and services?

Between the two Ankara hospitals and the Istanbul Medical Center we have a total enclosed area of 33,000 square meters. The total bed capacity is 323 with 16 operating rooms, a diagnostic and medical imaging center, and medical laboratories. In addition, we have four dental clinics.

What is Turkey's potential to become a significant player in the global medical tourism industry?

Medical tourism is poised to be a major industry for Turkey. Some say it will worth $10 billion within 15 years. Personally, I'm not sure that is realistic, but there is potential. Right now we are an important medical destination for countries in the region, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, Azerbaijan, and the Balkans. But those countries will improve their healthcare sectors in 5 or 10 years, and so we need to do more. Turkey's strengths are that it offers a cost advantage combined with quality. A hip replacement in Turkey, for example, costs $7,500 on average. The average price in the US is $130,000. The average price in Thailand, a major medical tourism destination, is $11,000. On top of this, Turkey has doctors whose experience and education are comparable to European doctors. We also have a strong legal framework, stronger than many of the typical medical tourism destinations.

How important are international customers for your business, and what are your competitive advantages for attracting patients from abroad?

Right now international patients are not a large part of our business. For 2011 we have targeted a gross income between $3 million and $4 million from international patients. However, we are targeting this area, and I hope that if we work properly this number will be $10 million in 2012. We are at the very beginning of this journey. In terms of advantages, we offer all-inclusive transparent pricing for surgery and procedures, hotel reservations, transfers, and a 24-hour concierge service. We provide international patients with the full translation of medical reports, a large number of specialists, coordination of pre-travel communications, and extensively tracked and monitored client outcomes. Our international patients enjoy timely access to care, especially relative to countries like Canada and the UK. Additionally, Bayındır is known for its specialization in procedures that are not always available abroad, like bone marrow transplantation.

What are your main international markets?

Today, our main markets are Azerbaijan as well as northern Iraq. Ukraine is also a good market. We are implementing an initiative in some of these areas called “Eurasia Medicine Days", held by Bayındır Healthcare Group and the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA). This annual program is supported by the participation of physicians from 10 countries, including the Caucasus, the Balkans, as well as the Middle East. We also travel to countries like Azerbaijan and run programs where our doctors provide care. This is a cooperative effort with the aim of providing the best possible care, but it also helps to grow our regional footprint.

Bayındır was one of the first private hospitals in Turkey. Why is private health care important for the country?

Public health care just isn't enough to satisfy Turkey's demand. And this demand is only going to get stronger. Not only that, but the country's economy depends on a strong private sector. Private sector activity in the healthcare sector is a good complement to state-funded medical care. It broadens capacity and helps to raise standards.