With the 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress about to begin on June 28, 2018, TCN caught up with Prof Nikica Gabrić from Svjetlost.
1. People are often surprised, and a little sceptical, when they hear that Croatia has a world-class health tourism sector. Can you tell us a little about it?
Croatia has a problem, a common one for developing countries; the problem is one of perception. The first step in making any decision about one’s health is a phase called the research phase. People that have a medical problem start by looking at the information available to them on how to solve that problem. What type of procedure do they need and what that procedure will cost. Who will cover the cost and how much time off work will they need to solve that problem? Where to solve their problem?
Croatia has excellent doctors. However, Croatia still has no pedigree among foreign patients as a destination. People who find Croatia and decide to take a chance here are often surprised that our medical centers are usually on the same level as the centers in their respected countries and the services are performed at a lower price. Croatia offers excellent value for these patients, and right now our dental sector is booming with Ophthalmology, Plastic surgery and Orthopedic surgery growing at a steady rate. These medical specialties can diagnose, treat and in a way heal these people under one roof, a prerequisite for any medical tourist.
2. The key relationships between the diaspora and the homeland tend to center around remittances and a holiday on the coast. How much is the diaspora taking advantage of the Croatian health tourism, and what are the key benefits for them?
Currently, our Diaspora is a vital, untapped, avenue for Croatian medical tourism, they already “trust” in Croatia. They know the language, the culture and have confidence in our medical expertise. We in Croatia are still not “talking” to our diaspora actively and using them as leverage to grow our medical tourism.
It’s a lot easier to convince a Croatian expat living in Munich that they should come to Croatia and have surgery here, save money and see their homeland at the same time. By using our diaspora as ambassadors of the Croatian medical tourism, we can reach their friends and colleagues native to their new home. A German citizen who works with a Croatian expat will talk this Croatian friend and have the first-hand experience shared about Croatian medical services, and that person is more likely to come to Croatia and after having a positive experience share it with other people around them. It’s a circle of positive feedback. We need to start that circle with our diaspora now so that in a few years we have enough ambassadors in these countries for Croatia to become a viable destination for foreign non-diaspora patients.
3. We have already featured several cases of clients from as far away as the USA coming to Croatia for treatment in Croatia. How well known is the Croatian health option is known within the diaspora and the broader international community, and what concrete steps can be taken to improve that visibility?
Any private practice in Croatia that offers high-quality medical services has a story, a Chinese patient, a Swiss patient, an American or even Australian patient but these are exceptions.
Until we have a steady stream of foreign patients coming to Croatia all of these patients are just “cases.” You can’t build a business or an industry on cases. We need a system in place that makes these foreigners actively want Croatian medical services. Our diaspora needs to help us promote this by being the first to arrive and “test” these services, go back to their new homes and spread the word as ambassadors of Croatia. Only then we can achieve visibility we need as, in medicine, first-hand experience and positive media stories can create the necessary shift in the international community that is required for Croatia to become a respected medical tourism destination.
4. Croatia already has some high-level presence with international standing in the diaspora, for example, the Cleveland Clinic – what is the level of cooperation with Croatia’s health tourism sector and health?
Doctor Mihaljevic, the current CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, is an excellent example of an individual from Croatia, showing the world that our medical experts are amongst the best in the world. Unfortunately, there is very little that is being done in Croatia and abroad to promote this expertise, our best and brightest.
There are many hurdles in our local laws and destination management organizations that are still trying to understand medical tourism. Some positive moves are happening now, but it’s all happening to slow for us to join the world medical tourism stage today. We are still a few years away from this end goal and, without a real actionable plan at the moment. As it stands today, we are looking at ourselves, private health care providers, to try and join forces and reach-out to foreign patients with very little support from the rest of the tourism industry.
5. Croatia has an impressive health tourism story which is not being told loudly enough. How can the diaspora help to spread the message?
Croatia’s story is impressive, that is true. We offer excellent services and can connect these medical services to our tourism industry at a fantastic value to patients. For now, it’s just a story, and we still need to develop marketing strategies, reach-out to diaspora and foreign patients so this would turn into a lot more than just a story.
First and foremost, we need to brand Croatia as a destination before we can offer individual medical services and then and only then we can develop our medical tourism to the level it deserves. Our diaspora can help us by being the first to try our services and become our ambassadors abroad.
6. The diaspora is very patriotic and supportive of the homeland, with many buying Croatian and supporting Croatian businesses wherever they can, but health is health. What do you have to say to diaspora who are happy to recommend using Croatian companies, but are a little hesitant when it comes to using its health tourism facilities?
I have a message for our diaspora,
“Come to Croatia, solve your medical problems here, save money and see your homeland. Our doctors and private healthcare providers are excellent, and you should not be afraid to trust them. We already are great at what we do and provide our services to Croats and foreigners now, help us spread the word about Croatia, and its medical tourism offerings amongst your friends. So, Croatia can thrive, and our doctors don’t have to leave our beautiful homeland looking for work!”