POLO+10: Dr Haarmann, what brings a healthcare specialist to polo?
JH: This summer I was invited to a local polo game, as a guest. It was fun to watch, but I also couldn’t help thinking: ‘This is fast! It’s probably twice the speed of ice hockey, but with not even half of the protection gear.’ With such a high risk of injury, I was surprised to hear that the presence of a tournament physician is the exception rather than the rule.
POLO+10: You would have expected it to be more common?
JH: If you play like a pro, then I think you deserve to be treated by a pro. Having sports medicine specialists on the sidelines has long been best practice in many other sports, like professional soccer. Given the high rate of shoulder and extremity injuries in polo, an orthopaedic specialist is probably the best choice for the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Starting treatment as quickly as possible, and consistent therapy, are key to a speedy recovery so that players don’t have to miss the next major match. With telemedical follow-up, distance is no longer a real hurdle for continuing specialist treatment. Even travelling abroad to be treated by leading international surgeons has become easier, and is regularly practised by professional athletes.
POLO+10: Doesn’t medical treatment abroad waste a lot of time, effort and expense when you could have the same surgery locally?
JH: While accompanying spinal surgeries, during my work for a surgical implant manufacturer, I was often surprised by the extent to which treatment quality varied, internationally and often even within the same hospital. A top international physician, who operates on 200-300 of the most challenging cases a year, might minimize complications to 2%, while the complication rate among other surgeons could be as high as 20%. This is why we focus on internationally recognized physicians who operate on hundreds of similar surgical cases per year, and whose treatment quality is measurable. Finally, medical concierge services like ours can assist you with reliable information, translation and organisation.
POLO+10: Perhaps you could give us a sports example?
JH: Let’s take Usain Bolt, the famous Jamaican sprinter, who won three gold medals at this year’s World Championships. In 2012, he was in constant back pain and saw his participation in the Olympics seriously endangered. He searched for the top specialist for chronic low back pain and found him, thousands of kilometres away, in possibly the best known sports doctor in the world: Dr Müller-Wohlfahrt, head physician of the German national soccer team. He applied a unique, cortisone-free therapy and succeeded where many physicians had failed before, enabling Bolt to run at the Olympics and win the gold medal.
Another example is the UK boxer and heavyweight world champion David Haye, who went abroad to be treated by Europe’s leading specialist in minimally invasive shoulder surgery. Interestingly, Haye saw the same German specialist as Wladimir Klitschko, who had previously defeated him in a championship fight in 2011.
POLO+10: Is it only athletes that use international medical care?
JH: No, they are not the only ones. In 2014, an estimated 10 million individuals, worldwide, left their country for medical care abroad: often to Asian hospitals, for cost savings, or to Europe and the US for the most technologically advanced medical care. Affluent patients and royal families frequently seek treatment abroad, for greater privacy and first-class hospitality, especially in private Swiss hospitals.
POLO+10: With Zurich Health, you focus on treatment facilities in Switzerland and Germany. Why is that?
JH: In Switzerland and Germany you can find hospitals with more than 100 years of orthopaedic specialisation as well as dedicated sports rehabilitation clinics. High specialisation has led to spinal, foot or upper extremity departments, which have excelled in minimal complication rates and less invasive surgical techniques. It is this reputation that convinces celebrities such as U2 singer Bono, NBA player Kobe Bryant or tennis champion Li Na to consult German or Swiss orthopaedic specialists.
About Zurich Health
Dr Jens Haarmann is the Founder and General Manager of Zurich Health, an independent consultancy for international patients. He gained in-depth healthcare insights during a 10-year career in leading medical technology companies, for whom he visited hospitals around the globe, from Sao Paolo to Beijing. Jens Haarmann holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Zurich.
Zurich Health advises English and Chinese-speaking patients on world-class orthopaedic specialists in Switzerland and Germany, and organises treatments.