Scientists from Sechenov University interviewed Russian healthcare experts to find out what problems impeded the development of medical tourism in the country most and what measures would help attract foreigners. The results of the work can form the basis of the state policy in this field. Details of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Medical tourism (that is, providing medical care to foreign citizens) helps to develop the host country's healthcare system: in addition to the money paid for treatment by patients or insurance companies, it receives investment and an incentive to improve the service quality and the qualifications of its staff. However, to prefer to leave their country for treatment, foreigners must be sure that they will get an appointment with professionals, that it will not be very difficult to issue documents, including a visa, and that treatment itself will not be ruinous.
'Earlier, people came to places where they got better treatment, but now they look at where it is cheaper, comparing the price-quality ratio and service quality. And we began to be late with this. The issues of medical tourism in our country were taken up only a few years ago: the first research on this topic appeared in 2010-2011, and the state's interest in this issue was shown just two years ago, in the decree of President Vladimir Putin dated May 7, 2018,' said Vladimir Reshetnikov, one of the study authors, head of the Semashko Department of Public Health and Healthcare, Sechenov University.
The authors of the article asked experts to list the main problems that hinder the development of medical tourism, the measures that clinics and authorities need to take to improve the situation and the advantages of Russia that will allow it to compete with other countries. 36 heads of medical organisations took part in the survey.
The three most important problems, according to the experts, were the low awareness of foreigners about medical services, the lack of doctors and staff who know a foreign language and the lack of resources (specialists, equipment, etc). Respondents also noted that it is difficult to accommodate patients and obtain the necessary documents and visas, not all clinics have international certificates, and patients sometimes cannot continue to pay for treatment in the case of complications.
The largest number of experts - a quarter of them - agreed that first of all it is necessary to solve the problem of the lack of personnel and equipment. This group of measures also includes the use of the latest technologies, standards and recommendations. In the second place is informing potential patients about the services of medical organisations. This requires maintaining the clinic's website in good condition, translating materials into foreign languages, placing ads on foreign sites and offering online consultations. Experts consider word of mouth - recommendations from doctors and other patients - as well as advertising in search engines and social networks to be an effective way to promote clinic services. Another area of work is the creation of an organisation that supports the export of medical services at the federal level as well as the development of programmes for regional projects.
'The fastest thing to do is to build an organisation, create a structure that will deal with management, advertising and patient logistics. You can quickly change the legal framework, for example, to introduce medical visas. Of course, staff training will require more time,' Vladimir Reshetnikov explained.
Experts named the relatively low cost of services, well-equipped clinics and highly qualified staff as well as geographical location (proximity to the CIS countries) as competitive advantages of Russian healthcare.
'The goal of our work was to understand how to organise the development of medical tourism, to determine where our niche was, and what our strengths and weaknesses were, in order to outline the plan of action. The results are already being implemented in two regions (Sverdlovsk and Moscow regions) and discussed in the Civic Chamber of Russia,' the co-author of the study added.