EUROPE: Medical tourism keeps hospital budgets healthy

by Hugh Williamson ,  Financial Times | 2005-03-01

Heinz Zurbrügg is a doctor with a difference. Besides being a surgeon with 3,500 open-heart operations to his credit, the 48-year old Swiss medic is an ambitious businessman.

"Medical provision in our clinic is of course top quality," he says, referring to the Meoclinic luxury hospital in central Berlin where he is chief executive. "But we also have all the added extras for our foreign patients."

The clinic's patients from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, for instance, get Arabic language television, Middle Eastern food, accom-modation for relatives and bodyguards and, Mr Zurbrügg notes, "compasses in each room in order to find out where Mecca is".

As if to prove it, on a tour of hospital rooms he greets two women from Saudi Arabia, both fully veiled, who are packing for departure while also looking after a child watching Arabic cartoons on a big-screen television.

"Your limousine to the airport will be outside in a few minutes," he tells them.

For Mr Zurbrügg,these extras are an essential part of a new initiative this month by the Meoclinic and eight other Berlin hospitals to tap into the growing international market for medical tourists, which in recent years has spread from traditional centres such as London and North America to include European cities with top-flight clinics.

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