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'Western' Clinics Remain Popular With Foreigners

Back in the ’90s, it was not uncommon for foreigners who developed a health problem in St. Petersburg to go to nearby Finland for treatment, especially in emergencies and for surgery.

Now there are several private medical clinics and hospitals in the city offering Western-standard services, treatment and facilities aimed mainly at foreigners. They are managed or funded by foreigners and some provide foreign doctors.

These private clinics, which include MEDEM, Euromed, Scandinavia, and American Medical Clinic, accept international insurance policies, which means that in most cases patients won’t be asked for additional cash payments. Euromed, for example, accepts policies from 150 international insurance companies such as International SOS, Global Voyager Assistance CIS, Europe Assistance and Merkur Assistance.

Francesco Bigazzi, an Italian journalist and writer and former Consul on Culture and Media at the Italian Consulate General in St. Petersburg, said that in his experience, most Italians who reside in or visit St. Petersburg choose Western clinics without any hesitation.

“The structure and organization of the entire treatment process are much better in Western clinics; everything is exactly how we are used to seeing it at home,” said Bigazzi. “Besides, for foreigners, dealing with a Russian clinic involves a titanic amount of bureaucracy. In many Russian clinics they have no experience in dealing with a foreign insurance policy.”

“I remember that in some cases Western medical centers resorted to sending Italian patients to Russian hospitals for some serious treatment — but even on those occasions, the Western clinics organized and controlled the whole process,” Bigazzi added.

During the past few years, a new breed of private modern Russian clinics has emerged. They do not make a point of hiring foreign doctors, but focus on the quality and range of equipment.

“Until very recently, despite the fact that Russian doctors are highly qualified, many foreigners preferred to return to their home countries to get treatment, or at least resorted to clinics with Western funding and management,” said Anna Blokhina, marketing and sales director of MEDI Group, which owns MEDI International Clinics, the largest private medical and dental business in Russia. The clinics offer dental services, plastic and cosmetic surgery, aesthetic medicine and laser vision correction.

“In our clinics, we employed Western standards from the very beginning,” said Blokhina. “In 2008, we qualified for the international management quality standard ISO 9001-2000. We treat foreign clients on a regular basis, with many clients contacting us on recommendations from relatives, colleagues or friends who had been with us before. The foreign patients appreciate English-speaking personnel and doctors.”

MEDI, however, remains one of the few exceptions on the Russian market.

Yury Kondakov, a local surgeon with over 35 years of experience in the city’s hospitals and clinics, said the main disadvantages of state-run clinics that prompt foreigners to go private are bureaucracy, outdated or insufficient equipment, rude personnel and shabby premises.

“The truth is that in state clinics the doctors can sometimes prescribe a diagnostic test but there will be up to a three-month wait, which is most distressing, but no state doctor can do anything about it,” said Kondakov. “Many Russian hospitals are stocked with second-hand, sometimes outdated and cheaply-bought foreign equipment, which does not look very attractive either.

“Nobody likes to wait in a rundown hall for two hours to get in, and then be dealt with in a rush,” he said.

Despite all that, Kondakov said that doctors in Russian clinics often have better qualifications because they gain valuable experience by dealing with many patients on a daily basis. “It is an open secret that a doctor in a foreign clinic may sit all day and get a couple of patients at the most. Additionally, they learn to rely on the equipment too much. In contrast, many Russian doctors — with less equipment available — develop better professional instincts because they have to listen and examine the patients more attentively.”

Another difference between the Western and Russian clinics is the overall philosophy relating to medicine. In Russia, doctors are typically trained as specialists, whom patients consult with a specific problem, whereas in Western Europe and the U.S., doctors are trained as general practitioners.

The largest full range medical facility in town is MEDEM Clinic & Hospital, which offers 2,000 kinds of medical services provided by 300 doctors in spacious facilities. MEDEM spent over $20 million building this state-of-the-art medical facility, which houses some of the most modern clinical technology in Europe.

Doctors at the city’s Russian-Finnish Scandinavia Clinic train in Scandinavian countries. The clinic also offers a family approach with adult and pediatric sections situated under the same roof.

Foreign investment in Scandinavia exceeded 10 million euros, with 2.2 million euros coming from the World Bank (its first medical project in the city). The doctors on Scandinavia’s adult and pediatric wards have the opportunity to consult with their Finnish counterparts in real time via telemedical equipment.


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