A strategy is needed to develop medical tourism

18 september 2017

"The main barriers to the export of medical services include lack of equipment, lack of qualified personnel and the kind of medical services people in other countries have come to expect, lack of medical visas and lack of promotion," that was the verdict passed by the Department for Foreign Economic Activity of the Analytical Center Ksenia Sukhorukova at an expert meeting devoted to this topic. The experts participating in the meeting discussed the current situation and concluded that Russia has all the right conditions to develop this sector but a lot has yet to be done.

"In the medical services sectors it is chains that are calling the shots," said the CEO of the Foundation for the International Medical Cluster Mikhail Yugai. "There are foreign companies willing to come to our market and work here; however, they are not necessarily willing to invest here; it is not a problem though, as major Russian companies are happy to fill the role of investors. The problem is that foreign clinics charge complete different prices than what is common here."

According to Mr. Yuga, unlike the western healthcare systems, ours has no competition, thus the way that patients are treated is completely different. "It is no easy task brining to market a clinic with a completely Soviet mindset," Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for Tourism Roman Skoriy concurred.

"Several foreign medical services providers are seeking to participate in this cluster," continued the CEO of the Medical Tourism Agency AMedTour Victor Ilyushitz. "The thing is, though, they are in it for the money and do not care about helping the Russian healthcare system. It was a great idea to create a medical cluster in Skolkovo but it still is a controversial idea, sort of like our automotive industry. We brought in foreign companies to help our car industry and now there is practically nothing left of our car industry. For example, in Turkey and India they are also creating clusters but over there the main goal is to develop domestic healthcare rather than to attract foreign business."

Mr. Ilyushitz believes that even though many countries are currently implementing plans to attract foreign patients, our medical institutions are not showing any interest in that. Excessive red tape means that even when it comes to promoting medical tourism within the country, numerous problems are encountered.

"At the federal level there is no legal definition for the notion of medical tourism and in order to promote it in Saint Petersburg they passed a law defining it," said the President of the Medical Tourism Association Igor Platonov. "The next step should be the development of criteria and standards for medical companies and adoption of a state program to develop medical tourism. We need accreditation for providers of medical services in accordance with some kind of standard, such as ICO."

The Head of the Healthcare Economics Institute of the Higher School of Economics Larisa Popovich believes that Russia needs to create its own certification system and get it internationally recognized. "A strategy is called for because there is a lot of competition in this market and first of all we need to stop people going abroad to get medical services. Our compatriots tend to regard the medical services they can get in other countries as better quality, which means there is a serious lack of awareness about what they can get at home," Ms. Popovich said. "It is important to help our patients make the right choice, guide them from the moment they start planning a trip, help them get the best possible accommodation and generally work on creating an overall positive experience."

"Our target audience is the former USSR republics," believes the CEO of the Doctor Next Door chain of clinics Vladimir Gurdus. "We need to develop pricing recommendations for Russian medical services providers; then we need to research the market and find our niche. The weakness that Russian medical services providers have is rehabilitation and patient care. Unless we make significant improvements in this field we will not be able to compete effectively."

Mr. Gurdus believes that medical tourism can only develop through public private partnership.  It would also be a good idea to take advantage of telehealth, not necessarily for making preliminary diagnoses just yet but so doctors and patients can meet each other and patients can get some initial recommendations.

The experts concluded that exports of medical services need to be promoted and since Russia is one of the ten countries with the best natural conditions for rehabilitation, full advantage must be taken of this fact.

List of participants