Home » News » Association of Croatian American Professionals Annual Conference in Zagreb with groundbreaking medical tourism session

Association of Croatian American Professionals Annual Conference in Zagreb with groundbreaking medical tourism session

Association of Croatian American Professionals Annual Conference in Zagreb With Groundbreaking Medical Tourism Session

Association of Croatian American Professionals Annual Conference in Zagreb (Photo: Supplied)

The Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) held their annual meeting for the first time in Croatia and it was a huge success with over 125 speakers, 300 participants in person and so many more Croatian Americans involved via a zoom connection.

The 2023 ACAP Zagreb Medical Tourism Day on Thursday, July 6th was entitled: Connecting the Doers-Unlocking Croatia’s Potential for Healthy Living. Nikolina Brnjac, Minister of Tourism and Sports addressed the topic of medical tourism, highlighting Croatia’s worldwide recognition for tourism and sports.

It was proudly shared that Croatia has been ranked among the top twenty global tourist destinations and the top ten most recognizable tourist brands. The Minister predicted that in the new decade, Croatian tourism aims to adopt a new plan within a global framework, focusing on sustainability, digitalization, marketing and operations.

ACAP President Dr. Steven Pavletic with ACAP-NFCACF Board Members-Activists (Photo: Supplied)

Dr. Steven Pavletic, ACAP President, stated that “This Zagreb conference succinctly demonstrated all the potential in health and tourism that Croatia can offer on the international scene. He added that the access to European Union investment funds ensured by the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports will make a huge difference in making the longtime desirable goal of year round tourism in Croatia a reality.”

During one morning session, keynote speakers Dr. Stjepan Orešković and Miljana Kujundzic Tiljak, in their joint panel discussed the legacy of Andrija Štampar and the future of health in Croatia. They emphasized the importance of connecting the diaspora, as observed in the fastest-growing countries worldwide. 

They proposed subsidizing students to study abroad and encouraging their return to Croatia, following the example set by Andrija Štampar with his students. To ensure the future of Croatian medicine, emphasis should be placed on data, technology, established systems, and the well-being of the population. The speakers advocated for a shift towards value-based healthcare, which incentivizes healthcare providers to prioritize the quality of services rather than quantity. Under this model, providers are compensated based on patient health outcomes.

The competitive landscape of Croatian healthcare includes factors such as evidence-based medicine, the tradition of medical tourism, location advantages, price competitiveness, and reputation. Both speakers highlighted that health should not be viewed as an expense or a problem but rather as a driving force behind national development and competitiveness. Dr. Orešković concluded by emphasizing the inseparability of a strong economy and a robust healthcare system.

The panel discussion with featured speaker, Ivana Kolar, President of Association of Health Tourism centered on building the foundation for health and tourism. It was noted that the National Recovery and Resilience Program has allocated 100 million euros in grants to develop health tourism in Croatia, specifically targeting potential destinations. This investment represents around 10% of the total investment in the Croatian economy. 

The grants aim to position Croatia as a leading health tourism destination over the next decade. The key areas of focus include the development of specialized clinics, extending the tourist season (Project: Tourism 365) and establishing high-quality wellness centers. The provision of care in all established and emerging regions should encompass preventive care, lifestyle health, rehabilitation (both mental and physical) to ensure active, healthy aging. However, the panel discussed how to effectively communicate the concept of preventive care to the U.S. market. Ivana Kolar encouraged individuals to join the Health Tourism Association in Croatia to support the expansion and growth of health tourism. 

There were many other expert panelists within this Medical Tourism morning session and included  Kresimir Luetic, President of Croatian Medical Chamber, and Luka Burilovic, President of Croatian Chamber of Economy. There were many specific ways mentioned to further develop the necessary infrastructure in Croatia which could attract over 200,000 tourists aged sixty five and above for year-round stays.  Several speakers stressed that in order to achieve this, investments in human resources, infrastructure are needed (including senior health villages and hotels). 

This commitment would create a demand for more spa destinations, thermal and thalassotherapy centers along the coast. These retirement communities could cater to both long-term and short-term stays and would include medical treatments too.

To attract potential clients, there was a serious discussion how Croatia can promote its advantages over other countries, such as the quality of medical services, highly educated professionals, European Union and NATO membership, quality medical training, safety and the population’s proficiency in English and other languages. 

Looking ahead to 2030, the goals for Croatian health tourism include: fully sustainable practices, the establishment of a national cluster for development, digitalization, robotization, artificial intelligence, human resources, an expanded focus on lifestyle and preventive therapy, the creation of more resorts in the continental region and a transition to a value-based healthcare system.

Dr. Dragan Primorac with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and UPMC Executive Vice President, Charles Bogosta at Zagreb ACAP meeting. (Photo: Supplied)

The third panel panel discussion explored the theme of building strategic and effective partnerships within the healthcare industry in Croatia. The speakers, Dr. Dragan Primorac from St. Catherine Specialty Hospital (Zagreb)and Dr. Charles Bogosta from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, highlighted their collaboration. This partnership aims to bring specialized care to Croatia, focusing on clinical and technological innovation, research, education, and improved access to cancer care. The cooperation agreement covers healthcare and science, crucial for positioning Croatia’s healthcare system globally and enhancing healthcare for Croatian patients, thereby expanding health tourism.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a world leader in transplant surgery, radiology, and sports medicine, has established its Hillman Cancer Center in various countries already. Dr. Bogosta outlined key considerations for U.S. firms or hospitals entering the Croatian market, such as regulatory, clinical, and operational factors. 

However, he highlighted favorable conditions in Croatia, including a stable healthcare system, sufficient funding, strong local partners, government support, access to high-quality diagnostics and surgery, demand for advanced cancer care, a qualified clinical workforce and favorable reimbursement rates. The partnership between the two clinical centers aspires to create a comprehensive cancer center, conduct novel clinical trials, and incorporate additional specialties like orthopedics and sports physiology by 2030.

The vision outlined in the 2023 ACAP morning panels on July 6th focused on Croatia’s health tourism’s future and aligns with the nation’s goal of becoming a year-round health tourism destination, attracting tourists from around the world to experience the benefits of its natural healing factors and high-quality medical services. 

All speakers agreed that Croatia has the potential to emerge as a global leader in the field of health tourism, further cementing its position as an alluring and promising destination for travelers seeking both rejuvenation and exceptional medical care. Croatia’s journey into health tourism holds significant promise, supported by its commitment to sustainability, digitalization, and international collaborations. With the right strategic partnerships and a focus on enhancing healthcare services, Croatia is poised to become a leading destination for health-conscious travelers seeking high-quality medical treatments amidst the country’s breathtaking natural landscapes.

Hana Kotzmuth, NFCACF 2023 Rudy Perpich Fellow 

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