Can Russia Become a World Center for Medical Tourism? – Part I

Dear Readers:

Today I have this piece by Nikolai Protsenko.  The topic is medical tourism, which is rapidly becoming an important income stream for the Russian Federation.  In an earlier piece last month, on my blog, we discussed notable deficiencies of the Russian medical delivery system and attempts to improve it.  The contradiction is easily explained:  Different levels of the system operate at different levels of quality.  As in any country, the quality of medical care you might receive in Russia might depend on where you live, for example.

That being said, Protsenko begins his article with the thought, that the Russian healthcare system, so often cursed by the citizenry within the country, enjoys a lot of respect abroad.  The proof of the pudding:  the increasing tempo with which foreigners travel to Russia for high-level and high-tech medical treatment.  Which leads the country’s leaders to ponder ways to increase even further this lucrative revenue stream.

Medical tourism to Russia is a growing business, here are some numbers:  In 2017 120,000 foreign “tourists” were treated.  By 2018 this number had rose to 300,000.  And just in the past 6 months of the current year, according to data provided by the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, we are talking a whopping 530,000 foreign patients!

The government has named the development of this “side industry” one of the key priorities of the Russian health system.  It is proposed, in the next 5 years, by 2024, to quadruple the volume of this “product”.  The revenues brought in have ranged from $250 million in 2017, and are projected for a whopping $billion dollars by 2024.

A patient at the Sochi sanatorium gets cured of … whatever she has.

Experts are optimistic that Russia possesses everything that it needs to make this project a success.  According to Dmitry Bogdanov, who runs the Sochi sanatorium “Knowledge” (Знание):  Russia has an opportunity to complete in three different arenas of Medical Tourism.  Firstly, Russia possesses First World high-tech in such areas as Neurosurgery and Oncology.  “New medical centers have been constructed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, and other cities.  Enormous resources were invested into these centers, and they are definitely able to compete with anything on the world market.  They are at the same level as similar clinics in Germany, the U.S., and Japan.”

The second segment, equally promising, consists of simpler services such as Stomatology, which, in the U.S., is called Dentistry.  Surprisingly, Russian stomatology is wildly popular with medical tourists, including those from such European countries as Finland and Poland.  One reason might be that it’s a relatively simple service which can be combined with other tourist activities, like seeing the sights, etc.  So, for example, a tourist can arrive in Russia on a package tour, and then just make a side trip to see the dentist.

Healing waters + a stunning view of the mountains!

Last but not least, an area where Russia can certainly strut its stuff on the world market:  Its network of classy sanatoriums.  The main customers here are medical tourists from the former USSR.  For example, the Caucasian Mineral Waters sanatorium, in the Stavropol Krai, was visited, last year, by 70,000 foreign tourists.  The tourists were mostly former-USSR types, but also included some people from Germany, Turkey, Greece, China and Israel.  This resort is situated in the southern European part of Russia, at equidistance from the Black and Caspian Seas, with a stunning view of the Great Caucasus mountain range.  The area is teeming with healing minerals which people, traditionally, come to bathe in.

These mineral spas are so popular that investors are also interested in them:  For example, Azerbaijani investors have put a ton of money into developing spa networks in this area of the Caucasus.

Dmitry Bogdanov again:  “In all three of these segments [high-tech, dentistry, mineral spas] there is tremendous opportunity for growth.  Chatting with foreigners, I see that they have a high opinion of Russian doctors, even those foreigners who didn’t use to be part of [the USSR].  A lot of Russian doctors also work abroad in various clinics, and have made a good name for their profession in the world, in the same way that Russian programmers are esteemed around the world.  And furthermore, our prices for medical services are competitive, by world standards.”

[to be continued]

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