Health tourists are reported to spend almost 500 Billion USD in the world and the expenditures are close to $ 7,500 per capita. They also contribute enormously to the tourism industry of Turkey. Data released by the Turkish Ministry of Health shows that in the first half of the year 2018 there have been almost 178k tourists visited Turkey only for health purposes. 67% of those have preferred private hospitals while 24% of those have preferred public hospitals. University hospitals constitute 9% of the cake. Besides Turkey took the lead the health tourism all over the world with many advantages such as medical infrastructure, facilities and geographical location. Many tourism agencies regarded Turkey as the blueprint and the country’s cooperation with mostly European countries is being set to grow further.
No doubt that Turkish government expects more cooperation in medical tourism and along with the reforms and opening up to tourism industry has set the rules in health tourism in 2017 with the Regulation on International Health Tourism and Tourist Health (‘Regulation’) which is in effect since July 13th 2017. The Regulation is the principal document regulating the procedures and principles concerning the establishment of the minimum service delivery standards of healthcare services provided on an international level within the scope of international health tourism and tourist health and the authorization and supervision of healthcare organizations and intermediaries to conduct operations in international health tourism services in Turkey covering the people who travels to Turkey for healthcare services or those who have emergency health services requirements during their stay in Turkey as tourist. Foreign patients and casualties from such countries as determined by the Council of Ministers, by the order of the Prime Ministry or the relevant Ministry, whom are in extraordinary circumstances such as war, disaster, famine and the similar receive healthcare services during their stay in Turkey, or those whom are brought to Turkey from such countries by non-government organizations for purposes of treatment, patients brought to Turkey for purposes of treatment from the Balkans and Turkic Republics by non-government organizations approved by the Ministry of Health, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), or the Prime Ministry Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities, citizens of certain countries who are entitled to receive medical assistance under Social Security Contracts in accordance with the international agreement signed by the Republic of Turkey, citizens of the Republic of Turkey; persons who come to Turkey for treatment under international bilateral cooperation agreements, people who come to Turkey for education, training, or courses purposes, and their dependents for the duration of the education and those under temporary protection, refugees, persons who hold the status of asylum applicant or refuge applicant, asylum seekers, stateless persons, victims of human trafficking, foreigners of Turkish descent who present documentation of their Turkish descent and whom receive emergency healthcare services upon being brought in by law enforcement officers as part of a judicial case are exempted from the implementation of the Regulation. Therefore, foreigners who are temporarily residing in Turkey for meetings, congresses, commercial or tourism purposes may benefit from the health services provided in public, university or private health institutions in emerging diseases and under emergency conditions during the time of their stay.
The Regulation also requires healthcare provider and the intermediary organization to obtain international health tourism authorization certificates in order to operate in international health tourism industry in Turkey. Besides diagnostic, therapeutical and rehabilitative healthcare services, as well as traditional and complementary medicine applications may be provided at the international health tourism facilities authorized by the Ministry of Health. There is no restriction for an international health tourism healthcare facility to accept an international health tourist who applies directly to the facility. However, in the event that the operations of an intermediary organization are needed, a protocol shall be signed with an international health tourism intermediary organization been authorized by the Ministry of Health and a copy of the signed protocol should be sent to the Ministry of Health.
It is compulsory for international health tourism health facilities to establish an international health tourism unit to be assigned for international health tourists’ admission, registration, diagnosis, treatment, billing, discharge, interpreting and coordination of operations and transactions related to intermediary institutions. In international health tourism units, a doctor/specialist shall be appointed as the health tourism unit supervisor and report to the authority. Depending on potential number of health tourists, a health professional can also be employed as the international health tourism assistant unit supervisor in the facility.
The Regulation also requires the international health tourism healthcare facilities to record the personal health data, process it in accordance with Law No. 6698 on Protection of Personal Data dated 24/3/2016 and to transfer into the central health data system in accordance with the procedures and principles set out by the Ministry of Health. In this regard, international health tourism healthcare facilities and the international health tourism intermediary organizations are required to shall send information and documents that are requested by the Ministry of Health. It is clear that under the strong limitations of privacy rules the international health tourism healthcare facilities and intermediary organizations to be acted as either data controller of processor should in design and build their privacy agreement in an effective manner.