Health Ministry to Investigate Medical Tourism Phenomenon

Actions follow Haaretz exposé on corruption.

The Health Ministry has opened an investigation into the medical tourism industry at state hospitals following Haaretz's report on the better medical conditions tourists get at the expense of Israelis.

Haaretz reported yesterday that medical tourists enjoy amenities Israelis can only dream of, including very short waiting times for procedures, the right to choose their own doctors and private rooms.

Nir Keidar

The Health Ministry's director general, Dr. Ronny Gamzo, has appointed a committee of six hospital officials, public officials and academics to look into the affair.

The committee is expected to submit its findings and recommendations within a month.

So far the only regulation issued by the ministry on medical tourism appeared in a statement in June 1995, saying a hospital's activities in medical tourism must not infringe on its first obligation: to provide care to Israelis. The notice is worded generally and does not list explicit rules.

Gamzo is expected to issue a detailed statement based on the committee's findings.

"In the six months since I took office there have been initiatives by the business sector, hospitals and the Tourism Ministry to increase medical tourism at all public and private hospitals," Gamzo told Haaretz.

"I made it clear to the tourism and finance ministries that without additional beds it would be impossible to expand medical tourism, and we may even have to reduce it."

Israel has one of the lowest rates of hospital beds in the Western world - two per 1,000 people, according to the OECD.

"The lack of resources in the medical system ... makes it extremely difficult [to function] and to deal with medical tourism," Gamzo said. "The issue of medical tourism is complicated and the question of how to wisely balance its advantages and disadvantages should be examined."

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel asked the State Comptroller to look into the damage caused to Israeli patients by the increase in medical tourism.

"This is not medicine, it's business," said Prof. Alexander Aviram of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research. "This is a problematic area because it does not stem from medical necessity but from the desire to make money."