Medical Tourism and the role of translators as intermediary service providers

A new economic model for Greece? New business opportunities for language professionals?
Thoughts, ideas, and challenges.

by Katia Sabathianaki

Driven by my experience in the translation of real-time hospitalization & medical reimbursement records for the insurance industry, it became clear to me that Greece is rapidly paving its way to a new economic business model: Medical or Health Tourism.

“Medical tourism” alternatively called “health tourism” and “wellness tourism” is a term that has risen from the rapid growth of an industry where people from all around the world are traveling to other countries to obtain medical, dental, and surgical care while at the same time touring, vacationing and fully experiencing the attractions of the countries they are visiting. The factors that have led to the increasing popularity of medical travel include lower health care costs, limited time of bureaucratic procedures, convenience, affordability of a trip, and ‘exploitation’ of the technology that has been developed in many countries (Ford and Fottler, 2000 in Ioannis Sarantopoulos, Katsoni Vicky & Mary Geitona, 2014)

Facts & typology:

While processing medical documents, both in the pre-and post-Covid period, a new pattern of hospitalization and medical acts caught my attention: Apart from single emergency incidents, an increasing number of patients from developed countries have been traveling to Greece to visit metropolitan or regional healthcare facilities to receive (Leahy et al. 1995 via Ioannis Sarantopoulos, Katsoni Vicky & Mary Geitona, 2014):

  1. therapeutic treatment for wellbeing purposes;
  2. specialized medicine in dentistry, surgery, IVF consultation, or chronic diseases, such as Chronic Renal Failure patients under dialysis protocol and
  3. rehabilitation treatment plans (e.g., orthopedic accidents).

Such cases have grown in intensity and frequency over the last years.

From Antiquity to the 21st century:

Although the notion of one traveling in order to seek cure has been known since Antiquity (remember Asclepius medical centers and medical pilgrimage?), modern times, modern needs, and modern technologies reshaped this mentality and turned it into a new business model with multiple stakeholders involved, ranging from healthcare professionals, technology experts, travel agents, brokers, and insurers, public and private hospitals, third party management entities and, last but not least, language professionals that may turn this into a patient-centered industry, and guarantee the quality of any services provided, be it community interpreting (in person or via video calls), translation and stamping of official medical records, travel, admin documents and so on.

Πηγή: Canva.

Yap… OK, but what more should we do? We are in a free market…

Of course, medical translation and interpretation are part of a long-term and well-standing academic tradition of our Universities and Training Centers, and in this sense, little can be said for the social awareness, sensitivity, and impeccable service provision of our colleagues, either in the form of translation agencies or freelancers.

It is my belief, however, that since Medical Tourism has been lately set high in the political agenda and if Greece is to adopt more consolidated and organized Information & Communication Technologies [ICTs], bringing closer visitor-patients and healthcare infrastructures, this will create the need (and therefore business opportunities) for more consolidated and intensified quick-turnaround Translation and Language services, either in the form of exclusively oriented translation agencies (similar to, let’s say, legal translation agencies?) or clusters of professionals (let’s say, Professional Associations and especially designed teams?) that will attempt to meet the needs either for ad hoc community interpreting in hospitals and doctors’ private offices or translation of documents and (why not) training of administrative hospital clerks, whose foreign language skills are often found wanting and create dissatisfaction among end-users and clients, according to some surveys. (Ioannis Sarantopoulos, Katsoni Vicky & Mary Geitona, 2014).

What is more, e-medical tourism and the presence of the internet in almost every aspect of our everyday lives and working habits make the role of translation providers in this newly shaped industry even more interesting.

If I were a traveling patient visiting Greece…

Seeing the facts from a more Patient-Centered Approach [PCA] and the side of the “visiting patient” who chooses to organize a trip to Greece in order to discern, discover, and taste the natural and historical beauties and, at the same time, obtain medical services, I would feel much more comfortable knowing that in my town of destination, I could find local interpreters or translators dedicated to the needs of medical tourism (joining forces with the hospitals, the brokers or even local authorities), a fact that would save me time and money and would turn the whole experience much less worrying in terms of language barriers that often jeopardize the patient-doctor experience.

Mmm… Maybe, Maybe notFood for thought

The question begs the answer: if Greece is standing on the threshold of a new, still unmapped economic model, should we keep our business-as-usual model, which is by all means excellent in terms of accuracy, quality, and professionalism, yet often fragmented since end-clients spend time in search engines before reaching out to a professional or should we look at the next day, ponder on the new networking opportunities of our profession and attempt to bridge in a more escalated manner our partnerships with the rest of Medical Tourism stakeholders?

Needless to say, the foregoing thoughts and ideas depend on the actual volume and demand for translation and other language services, Medical Tourism-wise, so the whole endeavor remains to be seen…

This article does not claim to have a straight answer, and it only serves as a demonstration of the latest trends, yet it would be interesting to leave a window open for dialogue and, even so, create a terrain for the exchange of ideas and the promotion of the professional and occupational rights and pricing, thus creating a safe place for anyone involved and preventing poorly specialized service providers from taking advantage of the patients and their families, which is sometimes a risk worth assessing.


  • Ioannis Sarantopoulos, Katsoni Vicky & Mary Geitona  Medical tourism and the role of e -medical tourism intermediaries in Greece at TOURISMOS: AN INTERNATIONAL MULTIDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL OF TOURISM Volume 9, Number 2, Autumn-Winter 2014, pp. 129-145):
  • Vasiliki Traouda, Panagiotis Mpogiatzidis, Dialysis and medical tourism. Investigating patients’ perceptions in Greece, International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare: