The Algarve has long been known as Europe’s best-kept secret. The mild climate, endless beaches, the colours of the ‘serra’ (hills), a gastronomy based on the Mediterranean diet and safety are some of the reasons that make the region one of the most sought-after holiday destinations.
Whether you are looking to enjoy a family break, spend quality time with friends or play golf, the Algarve offers the best conditions. One of the segments that has been growing exponentially in recent years is health tourism. Growth is increasingly evident and today there is no shortage of modern medical facilities, assisted by state-of-the-art, internationally certified equipment. The reality is very different from what it was years ago.
This growth, particularly over the last 20 years, has not gone unnoticed by Dr Thomas Kaiser, a specialist in General Practice who was born in Germany but has lived in the Algarve for over two decades. After working in the suburbs of London as a general practitioner for the NHS, he joined forces with Dr Robin Thompson at the Family Medical Centre, founded in 1988, with clinics in Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. Together, they would go on to create one of the largest private practices in Portugal.
In 2009, Dr Kaiser was also invited to be one of the leading physicians at the launch of what is now the biggest private hospital south of Lisbon, the Hospital Particular do Algarve (HPA) where he was head of the Emergency Services for seven years.
“Today’s reality is totally different from what it was two decades ago. It’s impossible to compare the Algarve healthcare system of those days with what it is today. First, there were barely any private hospitals. At the time, we worked many 24-hour shifts here and, for more delicate cases, it was actually difficult to refer the patient to other units.”
It was vital to overcome the difficulties that were being identified in the medical care provided to foreigners in the Algarve.
And from his experience, international patients now feel confident about healthcare services available here. “They find it easy to schedule exams, the response is quick, and the process is easy,” he states.
A good example is the HPA Group, which was created precisely to overcome difficulties existing in the region, through the provision of “a high-quality service, cutting-edge technology and multilingual health professionals”.
But there are, of course, state-run units, namely within the Portuguese healthcare system (SNS), which includes the Centro Hospitalar e Universitário do Algarve (CHUA), with hospitals in Faro, Portimão and Lagos. Although “CHUA is a good place to learn, train and practise medicine”, in Dr Kaiser’s opinion, the summer months prove extremely difficult for hospital health workers as the Algarve’s population triples, and so does the “number of patients”. State healthcare response is really put to the test with high demand in terms of medical consultations and procedures.
Taking healthcare to another level, Dr Kaiser has developed the ‘Dr Kaiser Cure’ programme. It is basically preventive medicine. Rather than curing a disease that has resulted from unhealthy lifestyle habits, patients are encouraged to adopt new habits for better health. Through disease prevention, it is possible to avoid trips to the hospital, especially in winter with the usual colds and flu.
Preventive medicine is complex. “In the summer, we can see 50 patients a day, and five of them will visit us because they want to prevent the likelihood of getting a disease. These patients have to be willing to do individual risk evaluation tests and to change their lifestyles: do more sports, eat less, prioritise positive thoughts and analyse family history,” he explains. This is a method that allows the doctor to accompany the patient, of any age, on all levels: mental, physical, nutritional and even spiritual, through a multidisciplinary team, available at the Family Medical Center.
Even in cosmetic medicine, the clinics in Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago stand out. Dr Kaiser has developed one of the best practices in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery over the last 10 years, in cooperation with Dr Ibérico Nogueira, a surgeon who has a clinic under his name in Lisbon.
In this sense, it seems that the Algarve really is one of the best places to prioritise your health. In addition to the various hospitals available for treating illnesses, there are also several clinics specialising in other treatments, not to mention the excellent quality of life that the region provides. There are many health advantages to be found in the Algarve, especially for those who opt for preventive medicine. In Dr Kaiser’s words, it is “healthy” to live in the Algarve. “Ten thousand people die every day due to air pollution. Here, the air is pure and healing, the water is clean, there is plenty of light, the people are friendly, and the crime rate is low. The Algarve is paradise.”
However, the doctor believes health tourism still has a lot of room to grow. “We are a great destination for health tourism, but the competition is harsh. Countries such as Germany, France or the UK offer identical prices. Then, there are cheaper destinations outside of Europe. Tourists see Portugal, and the Algarve in particular, as an excellent option for a holiday. But the country still doesn’t come to mind as an option for health tourism, which is a shame because there is high-quality care,” he assures.
And one of the Algarve’s greatest assets, the sea, makes the region a natural Thalassotherapy centre, thanks to the therapeutic use of seawater, seaweed, sponges and coral. There is also no shortage of hotels and spas offering relaxation therapies, skin treatments and rejuvenation programmes.
In the hilltop town of Monchique, there are thermal waters offering unique conditions for treating respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders.
Finally, for those who want to take advantage of the region to balance their body and mind, and fight stress, there is an increasing number of meditation centres with specialists in body therapies, yoga, reiki and meditation.
Health does not mean the absence of disease. In 1947, the World Health Organisation defined it as complete physical, mental and social well-being. Therefore, the Algarve can also be a first choice for health, whether for a short holiday or for those wanting to invest in long-term preventive healthcare by making the region their home.
(Interview was given to Essential Algarve Magazine)