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Patients Flock to Israel for Cheaper Health Care

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Patients Flock to Israel for Cheaper Health Care

Middle East

Patients Flock to Israel for Cheaper Health Care

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. When you think tourism in Israel, it's history and archeology and religion and, for many people, family. You probably don't think surgery. But so-called medical tourists are going to Israel for experimental drug treatments or bone marrow transplants and a lot more. They find excellent medical care and low cost. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

(Soundbite of people talking)

LINDA GRADSTEIN: A few months ago, Ganady Petroff (ph), the director of a small company in Moscow, was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. He thought he'd get better care abroad than at home. Friends suggested he come to Israel, and a few weeks later, the 45-year-old arrived at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Mr. GANADY PETROFF (Patient): Here is a very high quality of medicine and very good specialists with experience, especially in my problem.

GRADSTEIN: Tall, blue eyed, and wearing a cowboy hat, Petroff has been in Jerusalem a month, living in a hotel and coming to the hospital for weekly chemotherapy sessions. So far, his doctors say he is doing well, and he plans to stay another two months. Petroff says the total bill for his treatment and living expenses will be about 50,000 dollars, a large chunk of his life savings, but he says it's worth it. Another Russian patient, Uri Vizansky (ph) from Smolensk, was diagnosed with gastric cancer. His doctors in Russia said they couldn't help him and urged him to seek treatment abroad. They suggested the U.S., Germany, or Israel. Vizansky says, it is not easy being in a foreign country alone, but he says he has no regrets about coming here.

Mr. URI VIZANSKY (Patient): (Russian spoken) Israel is a very interesting country, very old with rich history, and I'm very interested in that. So I enjoy that. I'm very pleased that I came to Israel because, unexpectedly, I found very warm and sincere people who are trying to help me.

GRADSTEIN: Doctor Yevgeny Lifsen (ph), a diagnostic radiologist, says Vizansky's decision may have saved his life. He is being treated with experimental drugs that are not available in Russia. Lifsen, who was born and studied medicine in Moscow and returns there frequently, says healthcare in Russia is about 20 years behind Israel.

Dr. YEVGENY LIFSEN (Diagnostic Radiologist): Some medicine are not available. They have no experience to treat people with new drugs. They are not familiar with possible complications, and how to treat those possible complications. It's whole package.

GRADSTEIN: Lifsen says the cost of medical care in Israel are much lower than in the U.S. or western Europe. He says heart bypass surgery, for example, costs about 35,000 here, compared to 150,000 dollars in the U.S. It's also faster. Waiting time for surgery like hip replacement is two weeks in Israel, compared to months in the U.K. Estimates are that about 10,000 medical tourists come to Israel each year. They stay an average of one month and often bring several family members with them. An additional 7,000 tourists come each year to the Dead Sea for treatment of skin diseases like psoriasis. Amitai Rotem, the director of marketing at Hadassah Hospital, says most of the medical tourists are from countries within a three hour flight from Israel. He says his hospital would like to triple its current number of 1,000 medical tourists a year. However, some doctors at Hadassah complain that the hospital wards are crowded and nurses are overworked. Yet, Marketing Director Rotem says medical tourist benefit all Israelis.

Mr. AMITAI ROTEM (Director of Marketing, Hadassah Hospital): The way to get better medicine for everybody is to finance it from out of the country sources.

GRADSTEIN: Amir Drori, the deputy director general of the Ministry of Tourism, says the impact of medical tourists here is much larger than their small numbers.

Mr. AMIR DRORI (Deputy Director General, Ministry of Tourism): It's good for the image of Israel, as an advanced country, of somewhere that it pays off to combine different treatments with pleasure.

GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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