Hungary for discount dentistry? The European nation feeds the world’s growing appetite for medical tourism

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Bill Jones

Bill Jones

If Bela Batorfi has his way, Hungary may soon be synonymous with complex dental procedures in the way that France is known for baguettes and the Eiffel Tower.

The enterprising dentist has helped turn Hungary into a top destination for medical tourists seeking discounts on expensive dental implants, as journalist Sasha Issenberg recounts in his book, “Outpatients: The Astonishing New World of Medical Tourism.”

“In Switzerland, you get chocolates and watches. In Hungary, you get dentistry,” Issenberg quotes one of Batorfi’s advisers as a saying to describe their hopes for the nation’s dental tourism industry, in an article for the Atlantic.

Issenberg says that some foreigners can expect to pay around 30 to 40 percent in Hungary of what they would pay for expensive dental implant procedures in their home countries. The discounts have lured medical tourists from countries like the United Kingdom, where Batorfi has also set up a satellite office for follow up visits.

Hungary isn’t the only place where foreign travelers are flocking for cheap medical procedures. Thailand is another increasingly common destination, Issenberg says.

“Part of the appeal there is, you’re recuperating–why not do it on a beach?”

Despite the added appeal of sunbathing in Thailand or sightseeing in Budapest, Issenberg says that medical tourism can be a risky proposition for patients. For one thing, they’re putting their faith in another country’s medical certification safeguards. And if something goes wrong, they might struggle to find recourse in an unfamiliar legal system.

Nevertheless, Issenberg says the future looks bright for the medical tourism industry.

“All the infrastructure of globalization that makes this possible is likely to grow. Part of that’s air travel, part of it’s the ability to move currency around the world, part of it’s the internet,” he says.

“I think the next step will be, do governments and private and public insurers try to develop a system that facilitates this?”

Listen to the interview with Sasha Issenberg above.

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