June 6, 2023 – Finally, a cohesive umbrella to showcase the best of Zagreb medical tourism, an additional remote work attraction for Croatia. Meet ZagrebMed.
It is six years since I discovered one of the biggest untapped gems in Croatian tourism, whose potential was jaw-dropping at the time. And after touring 3 medical tourism clinics in Zagreb back in 2017, I explained why I thought the Croatian medical tourism opportunity in Zagreb was so immense. Read more about that original discovery in Health Tourism is Coming Home: Why Zagreb is the Next Big Medical Tourism Destination.
A lot has happened in between. A pandemic and an earthquake in Zagreb brought the city and its medical tourism story to a crashing halt. But with Zagreb recovering from those, as well as developing into a popular remote work hub, also now serviced by 40 additional routes from Ryanair, the city’s medical tourism story is once more gathering pace.
There is another addition to the original story I discovered back in 2017 – cohesion. Back then, I came across a number of excellent clinics, but they were mostly working on their own. This has now changed, thanks to local entrepreneur Ivan Rendulic, who has managed to form the umbrella organisation, ZagrebMed, which is supported by public and private entities, providing one vital focal point for Zagreb Medical Tourism. I caught up with Ivan over lunch in Zagreb recently to learn more.
1. In terms of tourism, Zagreb is best known for Advent in Zagreb, and it may come as a surprise that it also has a phenomenal medical tourism potential and offer. Can you give us a short overview?
Yes, Zagreb is an award-winning tourism destination with its all-year-round tourism events such as the Advent for which Zagreb was voted best in Europe 3 years in a row. Then we have the Festival of Lights, Cest is d’Best and many other cultural, sports and gastronomical events. All of which justify the “Award for Excellence – the promising new destination” which was awarded to Zagreb back in 2011.
Zagreb’s medical tourism potential was often mentioned as a strategic direction, and it is for a reason, as Zagreb has a long tradition in medical education with the Medical School in Zagreb being more than 100 years old. Croatia’s doctors are highly recognized throughout the EU and the USA, due to their world-class qualifications and Croatia’s emphasis on quality medical education and research. Organized care for patients dates to the 19th century when the first nursing school was established in Zagreb. Medical clinics and facilities in Croatia have the highest EU standards and qualifications, we already have proven success stories with individual clinics winning international awards for excellence in medicine.
2. What would you say are the competitive advantages of Zagreb’s medical tourism offer, and who are your key target groups?
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, offers several competitive advantages in the field of medical tourism. Here are some key points:
- Quality healthcare facilities: Zagreb boasts modern and well-equipped medical facilities, including hospitals and clinics, that meet international standards. The city is known for its highly skilled medical professionals and advanced medical technology.
- Competitive prices: Medical procedures and treatments in Zagreb are often more affordable compared to many Western European countries and the United States. Patients can save a significant amount of money while receiving high-quality healthcare.
- Accessibility and convenience: Zagreb has excellent transportation links, including an international airport, making it easily accessible for medical tourists. The city also offers a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly alternatives, ensuring convenience and comfort for patients and their companions.
- Multilingual staff: Many healthcare providers in Zagreb have multilingual staff who can communicate effectively with international patients, eliminating language barriers and providing a comfortable experience.
- Comprehensive medical services: Zagreb offers a wide range of medical specialties, including cosmetic and plastic surgery, dental treatments, fertility treatments, orthopedics, and rehabilitation. The city’s medical tourism services cover various medical needs, making it an attractive destination for diverse patient groups.
As for target groups, Zagreb’s medical tourism primarily caters to the following:
- European patients seeking affordable healthcare: Many Europeans choose Zagreb for medical treatments due to its proximity and cost-effective healthcare options.
- Patients from neighboring countries: Zagreb serves as a medical hub for patients from nearby countries, such as Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as other EU countries and the UK, all who prefer accessible and high-quality healthcare.
- Cosmetic surgery and dental tourists: Zagreb attracts individuals seeking cosmetic procedures or dental treatments at competitive prices without compromising on quality.
- Fertility treatment seekers: Zagreb offers advanced fertility clinics and reproductive services, attracting patients from around the world who are looking for specialized treatments in a supportive environment.
- Wellness and rehabilitation tourists: Zagreb’s medical facilities also cater to individuals seeking wellness programs, physical therapy, and rehabilitation services in a tranquil environment.
These target groups benefit from Zagreb’s competitive advantages and the city’s commitment to providing excellent tailor-made medical services for all patients.
3. While Croatia’s medical tourism industry is hailed internationally as being high quality, it has often struggled to present a united and cohesive message and offer. Your new ZagrebMed initiative is bringing clinics together under one umbrella. Tell us why you started ZagrebMed and what are you hoping to achieve.
When asked to give a brief description of medical tourism in Croatia, I would always say: “Great individual clinics with outstanding results and services, each being unique in its field, but not able to penetrate the international market because each of them is working individually, we lack a joint effort”. When you look at destinations which are leaders in medical tourism globally, e.g. Turkey, Malaysia or Spain, you will see that they took a different approach. Instead of focusing on individual clinics, they created clusters dedicated to promoting the country’s medical tourism capabilities. That is the secret ingredient that was missing in Zagreb – branding. And that is how ZagrebMed started – a project supported by the Zagreb Tourist Board, it unifies the offer of key clinics, polyclinics and special hospitals operating in the Zagreb area through an interactive digital platform that enables patients from the region and the world to use medical services in a simple and modern way. ZagrebMed is primarily a long-term project to create a new brand of health tourism in Zagreb and to further position the city of Zagreb as a center of medical excellence in the region. By joint branding the leading medical institutions, we aim to create a new health tourism brand that will promote Zagreb and Croatia as a receptive destination for health tourism.
4. How does it work for the client who is perhaps interested in getting treatment in Zagreb?
ZagrebMed platform enables simple and safe booking of health services in renowned private institutions in Zagreb through an automated digital process. Medical travel is often a stressful process for patients from abroad, and to simplify this process, through ZagrebMed, patients select the desired health service in just a few clicks, as well as all additional services such as the organization of travel, accommodation, and transfers.
Using ZagrebMed is as simple as 1-2-3:
- Visit the website (www.zagrebmed.com) and create your free account.
- Explore the extensive list of medical services and providers.
- Book an appointment instantly and enjoy tailor-made care.
Our role is to create 100% personalized offers for patients without any additional costs.
Currently, 10 medical partners are included in the platform, and by the end of the year we plan to have 30 of them. It is important to note that the number of institutions per individual medical branch is limited. In this way, we enable the patient to receive several offers when sending an inquiry and choose the institution that suits them best. Over 200 individual medical services are already available through ZagrebMed, and in addition to Croatian, the service is also available in English, German and Italian.
ZagrebMed is completely free to use, there is no additional cost for booking medical services through the platform. And to support the process we have a patient coordinator at the disposal to assist the users.
More importantly, European residents can now avoid the long waiting lists and get medical care in Zagreb in the best private clinic without any waiting time.
The EU Cross Border Healthcare Directive allows European patients to travel abroad for planned medical treatment in other EU countries.
Once the medical treatment is undertaken, the patient can apply for a refund of costs from their healthcare insurance provider, either the national healthcare insurance company or a private one.
5. You also have partnerships with the likes of Croatia Airlines – tell us more.
Cooperation with the Zagreb Tourist Board, which was the first to provide support to the ZagrebMed project, was a necessary first step in the realization of this strategically important project. Croatia Airlines is the exclusive contracted airline partner of the ZagrebMed project, and the tourist agency Obzor Holidays is the exclusive travel partner of the project. Through cooperation with Croatia Airlines and Obzor, we offer complete packages that include the medical service, airfare from cities where Croatia Airlines has direct flights, airport transfer and accommodation in leading Zagreb hotels, all at lower prices than standard ones. In this way, we provide complete hospitality for patients traveling outside of Zagreb.
6. How do you see the opportunities for medical tourism developing in Zagreb, and how much of an opportunity is the remote work revolution?
I honestly believe that medical tourism will be one of the main industries in terms of yearly growth within the next years in Zagreb and it will position itself as a strategic direction on the country level. Being in the EU and Schengen, with its medical tradition and patient-centric approach, Croatia has much to offer for everyone seeking excellent medical and health services.
The remote work revolution, accelerated by advancements in technology and the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that Zagreb is among the 5 most desirable cities in the world for Digital Nomads, creates new opportunities for Zagreb’s medical tourism development. Here’s how it can impact the sector:
- Extended stays: Remote workers have the flexibility to work from anywhere, allowing them to consider longer stays in destinations like Zagreb while combining work and medical treatments. This can boost the demand for medical tourism services.
- Increased affordability: Remote work eliminates the need for traditional office spaces, reducing overhead costs for both individuals and companies. This can potentially make medical tourism more affordable and accessible to individuals who can work remotely while seeking medical treatments abroad.
- Digital health solutions: Remote work relies heavily on digital technologies, and remote workers are used to utilizing various services through digital solutions. ZagrebMed can leverage these advancements to provide remote medical services to international patients, improving the overall patient experience.
- Lifestyle and wellness: Remote workers often prioritize a work-life balance and place a greater emphasis on wellness. Zagreb can position itself as a destination that offers a combination of medical treatments, wellness programs, and a high quality of life, attracting remote workers who seek a healthy and productive lifestyle.
Regardless if it’s a body check-up, and MRI, an esthetic treatment or a simple dental implant, ZagrebMed has it covered.
7. Effective development should be through a strong public-private partnership. What concrete steps would you like to see from the authorities to improve Croatia’s medical tourism offer.
ZagrebMed’s mission is health equality, which means that all patients have equal access to health care, regardless of circumstances, postal code, or knowledge of the health system. We believe that the healthcare system should be easily accessible. It should be direct, and most of all, it should be personalized. As mentioned earlier, for us the cooperation with Zagreb Tourist Board was a necessary first step. To give medical tourism in Croatia the necessary push we need all the institutions in Croatia to join the efforts in achieving the common goals.
You can learn more about medical tourism in Zagreb and the services on offer on the official ZagrebMed website.