Last weekend the Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP), Medical Tourism Task Force held its 1st retreat at the Embassy of Croatia in Washington DC.
This by-invitation-only meeting was attended by forty top physicians and experts from Croatia and the USA in fields such as business, government, real estate, biotechnology, travel, education and hospitality. The meeting was opened by Dr. Steven Pavletic, the ACAP vice-president, Ms. Lara Romano, the Croatian Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission and Dr. Mate Car, the special envoy of Dr. Milan Kujundzic, the Minister of Health of the Republic of Croatia.
The basic premise of the meeting is that investment in medical tourism infrastructure and projects represents an immense growth opportunity for Croatia and should therefore be a number one strategic priority for the country. Projects should be exclusively based on bringing in private investment and non-government resources while the government role should be to provide incentives and the proper environment upon which investors can rely. It is estimated that one in five Americans travel abroad for some kind of health-related service. They love to travel to Croatia and the costs savings incentives are immense both for individuals and corporate insurers or employers. The European market is certainly a number one potential source for such medical tourism and hospitality services, while Croatia is currently nowhere on the list of regional competitors in this rapidly growing world industry. It is understood that investing in expansion of better health care and healthy living and aging infrastructure in Croatia would also bring the best world services to the doorstep of the Croatian population. The USA medical professional diaspora is a major asset in providing a competitive edge and assuring its success. To make this happen it is essential to find partners in Croatia who want to work on these projects and present to investors at the 2nd Adriatic Health and Tourism Investment Forum in Zagreb, October 10-12, 2018.
The meeting started with industry overviews of medical tourism given by Dr. Miljenko Bura, Mr Ognjen Bagatin, and Ms. Kate Suryan. Themes covered by this special retreat and its action items relate to four key areas. First is the development of branded wellness programs focused on life style modifications in populations with prediabetes, cardiovascular risk factors and cancer survivors. It is estimated that 150 million people in Europe and about 80 million in the USA would be candidates for such services. Excellent presentations on this topic were given by Dr. Jeana Havidich, Dr. Natasa Janicic-Kahric and Dr. Mladen Golubic. These programs would need to ensure sustainability by including a strong telemedicine component such as is currently used at the Cleveland Clinic.
The second theme included development of housing communities and senior living facilities in Croatia designed to accommodate 100 thousand Americans and Europeans. Dr. Miljenko Bura and Mr. Jeff Blackard are spearheading this project in Croatia. One major impediment for such development is the lack of necessary medical care infrastructure needed to provide health services for such a community. It is estimated that a housing community of about 10,000 people would necessitate building a hospital of 30-40 beds, which would require an investment of about 50 million dollars. A network of such facilities would be necessary and the positive impact on the Croatian economy and employment would be profound.
The third topic relates to developing a state-of-the-art cancer hospital to serve not only the Croatian population, but the whole area of South-Eastern Europe. Cancer mortality and 5-year survival rates in Croatia and South-Eastern Europe are dismal. Presenters on this topic included Dr. Steven Pavletic, Dr. Danko Vrdoljak, Dr. Mario Zovak, Dr. Marijo Bilusic and Mr. Filip Pirsl. It is estimated that a population of about 100 million people who need access to high quality cancer care would gravitate to such an American style hospital. A smaller hospital investment may be the most feasible way to begin achieving this larger goal. The envisioned cancer hospital would also have an essential complementary academic component to pursue clinical research and education. Croatia is currently very low on the list of European countries engaged in on-going clinical trials which allow cost-free access to the newest, most expensive anti-cancer drugs and also provide substantial revenue to hospitals (openpaymentsdata.cms.gov). With only one national institutional review board Croatia must work on regulations to speed up the approval and review process of such studies.
The forth focus topic was dedicated to the development of state-of-the-art facilities for the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions in biothermal centers. These would be located adjacent to geriatric-orthopedic hospitals and senior living communities. This project was put forward by Dr. Eugene Halar and the key component is the developed proposal for such a facility in Biograd na Moru, which could be an excellent first project to present to investors.
In the final phase of the retreat, the focus was on efforts to develop medical education networks and programs, presented by Dr. Katherine Vlasica, Dr. Mario Skugor, Dr. Mario Skarica and Dr. Iskra Pusic. ACAP will formalize a program for hosting and mentoring future Croatian and American visiting physicians to the USA and Croatia, respectively. Consequently, five focus groups with co-leaders were formed and charged with the task of executing these projects.
The next opportunity to convene will be at the 3rd ACAP Conference in Silicon Valley which will take place on October 18-20, 2018.