The US health care system is losing out on clients as rigorous, and at times, embarrassing security procedures at customs are deterring the Arab nationals.

When a wealthy Arab patient flew to Germany for medical treatment last year, he arrived on his own jumbo jet filled with so many body guards, staff, and family that he rented an entire luxury hotel floor for his month-long hotel stay.

The Qatari man may have been the richest, but he surely was not the only Arab to obtain health care in Germany in a post 9/11 world.

Ever since the attacks of 11 September 2001, anti-terror vigilance in the United States has frightened away many Arabs.

But German hospitals are reporting huge increases in the number of Arab patients since 2001 – at the expense of US medical centres such as the Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins – that they compete with in the $2 billion international patient industry.

Health care officials say Arabs are turning to Germany because they are tired of hassles at US airports with customs officials. They also loathe invasive interviews and degrading background checks needed to obtain US visas.

“We’re seeing a lot more Arab patients,” said Stefan Loening, head of urology at Berlin’s Charite hospital.

“There is a multitude of reasons, but 9/11 and the paranoia in America about security certainly has a lot to do with it.”

Hospitals in Germany, France and
Italy are benefitting from the
patient exodus in the US

Loening, who worked in American hospitals for 20 years, said the level of treatment in Germany is equal to that of the US, but the costs are one third as much.

But he said that price is not the main issue for wealthy Arabs.

“They can fly in and out of Germany without any problems and don’t have to worry that a nail clipper in their bag is going to raise eyebrows,” Loening told the Reuters new agency.

“No one is going to anger them at the airport and their privacy won’t be intruded upon. When Arabs travel to the US they’re viewed as potential terrorists, he added. “It’s very difficult, almost impossible, for them to get US visas. These people may be ill, don’t want delays, and don’t want an interrogation by customs.

Red carpet treatment

German medical centres are giving Arab patients the red-carpet treatment and borrowing some of the strategies US medical centres began perfecting in the 1990s to lure wealthy foreign patients to boost profits.

“There is a multitude of reasons, but 9/11 and the paranoia in America about security certainly has a lot to do with it.”

Stefan Loening, Charite Hospital

Berlin’s five star Adlon Hotel – where many Arabs stay while recuperating from heart surgery, kidney transplants, or cancer treatment – also reports booming business with Arab patients. They recently entered into a partnership with Charite, a prominent university hospital.

“We’ve seen very strong increases in demand from guests from Arab countries coming to Berlin for treatment,” said Emilie Sotomayor, spokeswoman for the 336-room Adlon where suites cost $8,400 a night.

“It’s a very important market for us,” she said. One patient recently booked rooms for 100 people in his entourage.

German Health has seen its revenues triple in the last year, with 600 patients coming from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’ve had princes, princesses, and sheikhs come to Germany in the last two years,” said Samtimiz.

Although no comprehensive statistics are available, it appears medical centres in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, as well as Egypt, are also beneficiaries of America’s clampdown on Arabs.

“Many are coming here,” said a spokesman at the Saudi embassy in Paris. “Arabs of all different nationalities are coming to France instead of the United States. They are very badly treated there at the airports.”

“Before we had 10 people a year, now I deal with at least 10 a week.”