According to a leading Czech plastic surgeon, Ondrej Mestak, foreigners spend over half a billion crowns every year on cosmetic surgery, assisted reproduction, obesity and gynaecological procedures and spa treatments in the Czech Republic and these figures are growing by up to 15 percent annually. Although there are no statistics regarding the number of medical tourists visiting the country each year, it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands and the number is set to grow by up to 20 percent annually. The Czech Republic is now one of the leading medical tourism destinations in Europe and is particularly popular with Britons and Germans, as well as Russians and people from the former Soviet states and the Middle East.  Despite its growing popularity as a medical tourism destination, there are still some common misconceptions surrounding medical treatment in the Czech Republic which may put off potential visitors. Here we look at those key misgivings and expose the fact behind the fiction:
1. FICTION: Lower treatment costs are due to sub-standard medical care
FACT: Czech medical care is excellent. The 2016 Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI), which rates the public health care systems across 35 European nations, placed the Czech Republic at number 13 - ahead of the UK, Italy and Spain. The infant mortality rate is also one of the lowest in Europe. Despite the excellent quality of care, treatments can be two to three times less expensive than in the UK, Germany or the USA, for example. The lower price is simply due to lower wages and costs. Czech doctors are highly trained and skilled and the country's popularity as a leading medical tourism destination serves to hone their proficiency. A Czech plastic surgeon performs an average of 450 operations per year, while the number of IVF cycles for foreign clients has doubled from around 5,000 in 2012 to over 10,000 in 2015. The field of medicine has a distinguished history in the Czech Republic. Dr. Eduard Zirm performed the first cornea transplant in 1905 in Olomouc, one of the first successful transplants ever carried out. The renowned doctor, Frantisek Burian, is described as the godfather of modern-day plastic surgery, having designated it a separate specialisation in the 1920s. The chemist, Otto Wichterle, developed the soft contact lens in the early 1960s and the first test-tube baby in Central and Eastern Europe was born in Brno in 1982. More recently, the US-based plastic surgeon, Bohdan Pomahac, led the team which carried out the first full face transplant in the US in 2011.
2. FICTION: Medical infrastructure and facilities are often inadequate
FACT: Visitors to Czech treatment facilities are often shocked to find they resemble the private clinics back home. They are modern, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and equipment and are finished to the high standard you'd expect in such an establishment. Many clinics have ISO certification, which means the facilities must meet strict quality controls and even those which are not ISO accredited are certified by the Czech Accreditation Commission. Clinics offering IVF must be in possession of a permit for operation of a tissue facility from SUKL (State Institute for Drug Control) and must submit to regular inspections. Additionally, the Czech Republic became an EU member state in 2004 and therefore has to comply with all EU directives and regulations governing pharmaceuticals, medical devices, blood and tissue products, etc.
3. FICTION: Doctors don't speak English
FACT: While it may be true that the average Czech can often be reticent when it comes to conversing in a foreign language, this is not the case with doctors who practice at large, well-respected clinics. As many of their patients speak English, it comes as no surprise that they have a good command of the language and are accustomed to - and adept at - explaining procedures and answering patients' queries, however complex. Indeed, many doctors have practiced medicine abroad and have the linguistic credentials to show for it.
4. FICTION: Treatment is restricted to Prague and Brno
FACT: Although most facilities are concentrated in the Czech Republic's two biggest cities of Prague and Brno, there are excellent alternatives in the smaller towns and cities such as Zlin, Olomouc, Kostelec nad Orlici, Teplice, Pilsen, Liberec and Hradec Kralove. The country has an extensive, efficient and very reasonably priced rail network, so these places are easily accessible. A big advantage of going further afield is that while the smaller towns and cities offer the same quality of care, their prices are often lower.
5. FICTION: The Czech Republic is difficult to get to
FACT: Far from being hidden away in the darkest recesses of Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic is actually located in the heart of the continent and is well served by budget airlines which ply the route between Prague and all the key European hubs. There are some great travel bargains to be had, with some flights from the UK going for as little as a few Euro if booked in advance. The bargains don't end once the plane lands either, with the price of accommodation and eating out comparing favourably with other major European cities.
Contributing writer: Natasha Robinson