But reality is a bit different. The newspaper “Belarusians and Market” talked to Dmitry Kamenkov, a dentist of the highest category, director of Export Tourism LLC, which promotes abroad the services of Belarusian medical institutions.
– Has the demand for medical services also increased in your company?
– There was an increase last year. But let’s be clear about what we are comparing it to. In 2020, people were frightened by the covid and stayed at home. Almost the whole year was “dead.” Our company recorded an 83.5% decline in tourists. So compared to 2020, of course, there was an increase in 2021, but it’s still a long way from 2019 levels.
These 40 million dollars – is 90% the result of our locomotive, the State Institution “MNPTS Surgery, Transplantology and Hematology,” under the leadership of Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Oleg Rummo.
In general, when it comes to medical tourism, the situation is getting worse. It is difficult for foreigners from the EU to get treatment in Belarus because the logistics is disrupted. Our clients are mostly located in the Baltic States and Scandinavia. The Swede from Stockholm will not fly to Minsk via Istanbul. That is why last year the bulk of medical tourists who contacted our company were from the former Soviet Union, mostly from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.
– The situation is really difficult now, but speaking of the potential of Belarus, can we expect that in the future tourists will come here en masse for medical services?
– Yes, if this issue will be given a due attention at the state level, as it was done in Israel (the Ministry of Medical Tourism was created) or South Korea (Medical Tourism Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The logistics in these countries are well developed. Even the border terminal at the airport, boarding and exiting the plane for medical tourists are organized separately. These countries have realized that investments in medical tourism pay off better than investments in traditional tourism. The average income from a classical tourist is $100-120, while from a medical tourist – over $1000.
In Belarus, as well as ten years ago, there is still a problem not only with logistics, but also with visa support. I think that the fees for medical visa should be either canceled or a reduced coefficient should be set. Yes, a tourist won’t have to pay 35 Euros for a visa, but will leave much more money in the budget. It would also be desirable to accredit medical and health tourism travel companies in our consular offices.
– Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs help to promote your services?
– Promotion is done at the expense of the company. Although we have repeatedly applied to the embassies for assistance in conducting exhibitions, conferences, online seminars for travel companies in other countries. Usually our help was limited to information support. I can only note that now we are in talks with the Belarusian ambassador to Sweden. I hope that with the help of the embassy it will be possible to open an information center of Belarusian medicine in Stockholm. Then we plan to create similar “health embassies” in the neighboring countries: Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
– Is the language barrier a problem?
– Not at all. The office staff speaks eighteen languages. In Belarus, our clients are accompanied by interpreters or we find a person who speaks the patient’s native language.
– What are the reasons why foreigners come to Belarus for treatment?
– Three quarters of the clients are attracted by favourable total cost including medical services. Others come to a specific doctor. For example, they go to Dr. Bespalchuk for joint microprosthetics and to Prof. Yuri Ostrovsky for cardiac issues.
Foreigners also come to Belarus because for them it is important how quickly the medical service will be provided. For example, citizens of Sweden or Germany, due to insurance and other contracts, have the opportunity to be treated free of charge in their countries. But to get an MRI of the spine, you have to wait from six months to a year. Our company, thanks to partnership agreements, opens up a “green corridor” for them. Therefore, it is easier for a German or a Swede to spend a relatively small amount of money, come to Belarus, be examined here and now and as a result receive treatment at an earlier stage.
– Do clients complain about the quality of services?
– There are no questions about the doctors and treatment methods. In terms of examinations, there are international protocols that cannot be deviated from.
There are some questions about the everyday life. Not all clinics offer the appropriate level of accommodation. For example, we order a VIP-patient department, but the hospital charges us 100-120 rubles per day just for staying there. In fact it is a regular room, but there is only one bed instead of three, plus a lamp TV and an old refrigerator, which is humming half the night. I often have complaints about the food, too.
– What are the most popular services?
– According to an analysis of clients who contacted our company, the data are as follows. Dental services are in the first place (55-60%). Patients are interested in dental implants and complex prosthetics. In the second place are services connected with treatment of oncologic diseases (20 %), in the third place – women’s health care (15-20 %), all other destinations constitute 5 %.
– Do they go to Minsk or do they go to the regions as well?
– It depends on where a tourist is coming from and what kind of medical care he needs. We try to use Vitebsk and Polotsk for logistics of the North-West district of the Russian Federation. When the level of complexity of procedures is above average, respectively, we focus on Minsk.
– Do Russia and Belarus compete in this area? Where is the quality better?
– In Russia they invest huge resources in medicine. In the last ten years the Russians have advanced a lot. In terms of equipment of medical institutions Belarus lags behind. But the Russian medical community lacks fanatics of their work. In clinics the issue of a client’s ability to pay comes first. Doctors look at him like a credit card. They offer the most expensive services and prescribe unnecessary diagnostics, because every service brings money to the hospital.
In Belarus, the old Soviet school has been preserved, and the vast majority of doctors 35+ treat the patient as a close relative. They do not prescribe unnecessary things. A Belarusian doctor always tries to do more than prescribed in the protocol to get the best result. In Russia there is no such approach anymore. That is the fundamental difference.