Recently, on my travels I had knee surgery done in Croatia. You can read about my experience in my blog here.
I’m writing this entry for any traveler who finds themselves in Central Europe looking for some medical attention.
If you’re not an EU citizen with access to the awesome public healthcare across Europe, you might be out a pretty penny if you need medical help while in Europe. This was the case for me. That’s when I stumbled across Croatia.
Croatia is an interesting country. It’s part of the EU, but hasn’t quite hit the level of first worldliness as Germany or Scandinavia. It has awesome facilities, moderate levels of corruption, amazing weather, and much cheaper healthcare than other EU countries, while still having European standards of healthcare. No wonder, then, that health tourism is popular in Croatia.
Unlike the US which has awesome peer review websites (for all the complaints the critics have about yelp, I find it invaluable), I found no such option here. The private clinics have really well done bilingual websites. However there’s no way of knowing if it’s a scam or a legit enterprise, nor how good the doctors really are. It’s a shot in the dark.
I ended up staying over a month in Croatia due to my surgery. I ended up talking to a lot of locals and gathering a lot of info. Here are the useful bits of it. I hope it helps you.
Why Private Hospitals
Though Croatia does have free public healthcare, there’s a waiting period of 2-5 months for a lot of procedures (knee surgeries and physical therapy for example!). Not only that, their equipment hasn’t kept up with the latest and greatest (well,my source for this was a guy that worked in a private clinic. So take that with a train of salt…)
Enter private hospitals. Private has better equipment (hearsay). And no waiting time.
There are also private insurance companies for Croatians looking to go private. Mid-level coverage is around 250HRK (43 USD), and upper end coverage is double.
Private Healthcare Costs in Croatia
It was amazingly cheap compared to the USA. Here are some things I paid for both in Croatia and in other countries in the past:
MRI Scan: 200 USD. In Germany it was 920USD.
Knee Meniscectomy (Arthroscopic): Approx. 3000 USD. Same procedure in San Francisco: 50,000 USD!!!
Physical Therapy (3 hour session): 65USD.
Hospitals I Found
I found two private hospitals that do knee surgeries (in addition to other procedures as well)
Sv. Katarina Is located an hour outside of Zageb in the town of Zabok. It has a number of doctors. I took my MRI there and interacted with the support staff there. Both were very positive experiences. They were very accommodating to my schedule, the facility was very clean and had modern shiny equipment. I sent the MRI taken to a doctor I know at the Rush Institute in Chicago and he complimented the MRI as one of the clearest and sharpest he had seen.
The support staff were very responsive and worked with me very well for matters such as getting US specific codes such as the ICD-9 and CPT codes that my travel insurance asked for. They all spoke passable English. Communication was adequate, though you can forget bantering if that’s what you’re into.
This is a clinic focused around one senior surgeon, Mladen Miškulin. it has 2 branches. One in Zagreb and one in Dubrovnik. He was the surgeon that performed my surgery. It has been 2 months and my knee is doing well. So as a surgeon I would say he is good, with a caveat. Communication. I personally found it difficult. Whether this is a cultural thing or not I don’t know. If you do decide to get surgery from him and are used to American doctors, then do your research on what to expect and ask pointed questions. I didn’t get much advice on what to do before surgery to prep, nor much on what to do post surgery. (“Walk normal, and ice” was basically the advice given). Thankfully I was gulping down websites on what to do pre and post surgeries so I knew the questions to ask. There was also a slight confusion with the anesthetist. You can read up on my full experience here. So overall I’d recommend him, with a caveat emptor.
This might be the case with all foreign country medical procedures. Do your diligence. Know what to expect and ask if something feels different.
The support staff at Etela wasn’t quite so quick. They took a couple days to get back to me on matters of insurance paperwork. Mind you, 2 days is still pretty quick compared to what I get in the USA, but the other clinic was a lot faster! I got the answers I needed though.
The facility itself, like Sv. Katarina, was really clean, modern and had modern equipment.
Physical Therapy in Croatia (at Etela Clinic)
Two thumbs way up here. I found it way, way better!
In San Francisco, a post knee operation physical therapy session lasted one hour. It had a bit of electrical stimulation and some exercises. A physiotherapy session in a private clinic here in Zagreb, lasts a whole 3 (yes, three!) hours!
This, in short, will be your experience. You walk in to a nicely lit office, are greeted by a friendly therapist, and are led to a set of lockers where you place your bags, if any. Then you’re led to the first bed where you get 10 minutes of laser and ultrasound therapy, each.
Following those two, you move to a real comfy chair with elevated leg rests where you get, in turn:
– Electro stimulation for the cartilages (20 min)
– Electro stimulation for the muscless (20 min)
– Magneto therapy (35 min)
After this, you get your knee massaged and flexed by the therapist. Then you go to your bikes and exercises. After all that, you get 15 min on the ice machine.
That’s not the best part! While you’re strapped in to all those machines, you can bring your laptop, connect to the really fast wifi, and do your work (*cough* Facebook *cough*). They also bring you cappuccinos and water while you’re there! I used to pay a visit to the nearby bakery and pick up a couple croissants. Cafe Physiotherapy! And the payment for all this? 65 USD!
I did my Physiotherapy at Etela Clinic. My Croatian friend who used to work as a physical therapist in Zagreb told me that that whole set of treatments was common to all Physiotherapy Clinics there.
Zagreb also has a free pool in the city which was nice clean and outdoors in the perfect weather! So I did that as well every day. The combination of all of it did wonders for my knee in just a week.
I wrote most of this during my sessions by the way.
Other Clinics used and recommended
- Poliklinika Akromion. Did not use it. But my Croatian friend who is a Physiotherapist recommends it.
- Poliklinika Leptir. Jodee when there to get some thyroid tests done. The staff was very friendly, punctual, and immediately set her up with a translator for the doctor. They carefully went through all previous records from the US before proceeding. Great bedside manners and all of it for a fraction of the cost in the US. For blood tests and a biopsy the cost was just a 100$.