Caroline Ratner spoke to Dr Uwe Klein, Chairman of the forthcoming European Medical Travel Conference. There are around 70 speakers and more than 100 companies will be attending the conference which takes place in Venice 5 -7th May.
What is the purpose of the European Medical Travel Conference?
We are holding this conference because the healthcare business and medicine is constantly changing and evolving. You cannot really understand what is going on in the medical tourism industry unless there is a forum held, at least once a year to provide a platform for the public and professionals involved to discuss changes and strategies for the future. I believe the EMTC provides an important annual milestone in providing overall knowledge and communication of global medicine and the healthcare market to the worldwide medical tourism industry.
There are always new players coming in to the world of medical tourism on a business and medical level and as a result new paradigms in healthcare keep emerging. At the conference, industry members can look at the ever changing shape of the industry, explore expectations, innovations and what factors need to be taken into account when planning ahead and strategising for increased patient movement.
Healthcare is an innovative industry and there are always new technical advances in medicine which puts pressure on healthcare providers to change what they offer and to keep up to date with medical developments and patient needs and demands. Changes in the international healthcare and medical tourism markets occur rapidly and news of innovative or cheaper medical procedures in one country spreads quickly around the globe, add medical tourism to this mix and the demands on medicine and the healthcare industry grow.
At past conferences many professionals have been surprised and astonished at what they discover about latest industry developments and a surprisingly wide range of issues are discussed and revealed in the conference environment.
What do you think will be the main issues discussed at the conference?
This year the impact of the worldwide economic situation on medical tourism will be one of the hottest topics and we will see that some of the major issues related to this will be discussed.
For example, the impact of the US healthcare reform on transatlantic medical travel is a subject that a very many people are keen to discuss in an open forum. The US healthcare reform may bring 50 million previously uninsured people into the US healthcare market, which will exert pressure on local healthcare providers and insurers. As a result US insurance companies will have to carefully manage costs and create a system that works within tight financial restrictions. The US will have to cooperate with other countries that operate medical care with the same high standards as their own but at lower costs. It says a lot that the Vice President of Blue Cross/Blue Shield David Boucher is attending the conference to explore the landscape of European healthcare and take an indication of where the US needs to go to make the country’s healthcare reform workable. Blue Cross/Blue Shield is a federation of 39 separate health insurance organizations and companies in the United States, combined they directly or indirectly provide health insurance to over 100 million Americans. More players in the US healthcare/insurance system are aware that the logical step for US healthcare insurers is to involve other countries in cost effective healthcare provision.
How will the EU Cross Border Directive be explored at the conference now that it has come to a halt at a political level?
It may have come to a halt on a political level but continues to develop on a industry level regardless as medical tourism in Europe is a reality and continues to be both patient and business driven despite the recent political stalemate. For example at a large German medical insurers AOK and TK which represents 35 million, Germans have started developing cross border healthcare regions to guide their insured patients to healthcare providers which offer same quality standards as in their own healthcare system at better prices, especially when paying out of pocket for certain services.
The EU needs to manage patient mobility and this will be essential in order for cross border healthcare to function successfully. At the conference we have speakers who will talk about the secondary effects of incoming medical patients within the EU and they’ll also talk about the development of e-health and tele-medical system. Other subjects covered will include cost regulation and a compensation scenario which works for all players involved and also more feasible structures for guiding foreign patients.
Another reality driving cross-border healthcare within the EU is the lifestyle of the ageing population. It is not unusual for retirees to spend extended periods abroad within the EU, and of course they will need healthcare whilst on their extended vacations, and as EU members they are entitled to it without incurring out of pocket costs – regional solutions need to be developed to manage the increase of cross border patients.
At the conference we will examine the experience and example of the Veneto region of Italy that has paved the way for the coming reality of large numbers of older people spending extended periods in the area (especially German nationals) by coming up with an integrated solution.
The Veneto region has initiated a strategy with the joint cooperation of the ministries of health and tourism by establishing a dense network of hospitals, doctors and clinics. They are working with German insurers to addresses this issue of patient mobility in order to best serve the growing numbers of older Germans spending extended periods in the area. This pioneering business model, which combines the opening of the public healthcare system to EU nationals, is an example of those looking for business models on which to base a workable strategy in order to understand best practices and feasible scenarios which could be applied not only to other single healthcare providers but to whole healthcare regions.
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