Most of us think about medical tourism as an avenue for cheap liposuction and boob jobs. I’m not sure why cosmetic procedures have paved the way for medical tourism when treating other medical problems is so damn expensive, especially across the pond in the United States. As an expat living in Prague, I’ve experienced all kinds of health care from private clinics to public hospitals, and I would strongly recommend Prague as a place to come and pay out of pocket for expensive procedures or tests you can’t afford at home.
The medical system in the Czech Republic
Obviously a tourist can’t come to Prague on a week-long trip and take advantage of the country’s free healthcare system just like that. That’s the kind of abuse that terrifies people about a nationalized healthcare system. It should go without saying that as a medical tourist, you’ll have to pay for everything out of pocket. Medical care in Prague varies, mostly on service, depending on how much you’re willing to shell out. Because it’s such an expat-heavy community, there are a ton of private hospitals and clinics that will happily charge you two or three times the cost of public care in exchange for English speaking nurses and short wait times.
The good news is that both public and private healthcare facilities in Prague offer exceptional care with state-of-the-art medical instruments and world-renowned doctors, who speak great English for the most part. The only difference is that public hospitals are in a Soviet-looking building and private clinics have nicer nurses and free coffee in a modern office with floor-to-ceiling windows. Generally speaking, there are less barriers to diagnosis, so if you see a GP and he decides that you need an ultrasound or a blood test, he will do it right then and there instead of forcing you to make more appointments and wait longer to figure out what the problem is. This means that your healthcare and treatment ends up being more efficient.
But better than all of that is that being sick in the Czech Republic won’t bankrupt you.
Care as a self-payer
Obviously, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a travel insurance that will cover surgery or chemotherapy. If you’re coming to the Czech Republic to treat something you already have wrong with you, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. This isn’t a problem for anyone because doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals will happily take a couple hundred dollars in cash (or credit). And you’ll pay less at the doctor than you paid to fly here.
All you have to do is find a doctor that will see you. This can be easier said than done. Many public clinics, called polyclinics (poliklinika), don’t see patients for a special issue unless you are a regular patient of that clinic. Presumably, this is where you’d see your primary doctor. On top of that, most nurses and receptionists at public health facilities including clinics and hospitals don’t speak English. So if you want to call the hospital, you’ll have to brush up on your Czech. Aside from that hurdle, public doctors, clinics, and hospitals often have longer wait times for appointments, especially if you need a specialist.
If you manage to get an appointment with a public entity as a self-payer, the good news is that your treatment will probably be dirt cheap. Like less than the cost of brunch in Prague.
The private clinic route
Obviously, a clinic can’t perform a complicated surgery, but if you need minor outpatient procedures or just to see a specialist for an undiagnosed issue, you can count on Prague’s private clinics to get you the care you need as soon as possible with the nicest medical service you’ll ever experience. As a medical tourist, you don’t have to worry about referrals or insurance. You can call up an oncology center or a urology practice and get set up with an appointment, even from abroad.
The best part is that prices are often posted online. So you can get a good idea of what you can expect to pay before you go to your appointment. You’ll never be surprised by a $3,000 bill you didn’t know was coming – and frankly, you could have your entire pregnancy and delivery here and you wouldn’t pay that much. Having posted costs also allows you to compare clinics before you pick a place. As a general rule, the highest standard of care for expats in Prague is Canadian Medical. I used to be shocked at how cheap it was to see a great specialist at Canadian within a week with no referral. Now that I’ve been living here for a couple of years, my price point for healthcare has adjusted. For Czech standards, Canadian Medical is outrageously expensive.
For instance, if you had to see an ophthalmologist for an eye infection at Canadian, you’d pay a little over $100 for all services rendered with absolutely no insurance coverage. That’s still super affordable compared to the US. But when you compare that to the fact that you could go to the emergency ophthalmology unit of a local hospital and pay $20, you realize that private clinics are highway robbery.
But you’re free to choose whether the hassle is worth the markup. I’m sure for a lot of people not wanting to navigate the public healthcare system without speaking Czech, the markup is well-worth it. If you do go the public route, at least you can afford to treat everyone to brunch afterwards.