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A special committee has recommended that a mechanism be put in place to ensure that income from medical tourism be invested in improving treatment for Israelis.

The panel, set up after Haaretz reported that medical tourism was barely being monitored, handed in its recommendations yesterday to the Health Ministry's director-general.

Haaretz revealed in November that around 30,000 medical tourists visit Israel annually, injecting some NIS 200 million to NIS 500 million into the health care system.

The committee's chairman is the deputy director of Sheba Medical Center, Prof. Arnon Afek.

"Some people say medical tourism leads to delays in the treatment of Israelis. We seek to ensure that the hospitals will invest the profits they make from medical tourism in improving the availability and speed of treatment for Israelis," Afek said.

"Medical tourism allows Israeli medical teams to gain experience in complicated cases such as the treatment of complex cancer patients, who are relatively few in this country. Realistically priced medical tourism would allow hospitals to employ more staff, hire professional staff from abroad and acquire new medical equipment - all benefiting Israeli patients. This was a principle on which the committee members agreed unanimously."

The committee recommends that medical tourism services be provided in public hospitals separate from treatments for Israelis - as extra hours in the afternoon. It recommends that treatments be offered to medical tourists in the morning only if the hospital has parallel facilities, including separate operating and treatment rooms.

"Medical tourism activities should preferably be limited in time, but some treatments cannot be carried out in the afternoon," Afek said.

The committee also recommended that Israel cancel medical tourists' option to choose a specific physician from a public hospital; this is similar to a rule governing private medical services for Israelis. Haaretz found that some hospitals still allow medical tourists to choose their own physicians.

"The head of a department should decide who is the best physician for a case," Afek said.

Another recommendation was that hospitals would pay physicians treating medical tourists the same fee they would be paid for treating an Israeli patient outside ordinary work hours. Afek said the fees should be identical, to "prevent discrimination."