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Summing up the round table “Medical tourism. Current and future tendencies”

Summing up the round table “Medical tourism. Current and future tendencies”

Today the growth rate of the global medical tourism market is considered one of the highest in the world in comparison with other tourism segments. The issue of medical tourism development is no on the political agenda of more than 50 countries. A wide range of scientific conferences on medical tourism are held around the globe; thanks to a global marketing, this sector shows constant and active development worldwide. Medical tourism symbolises the new concept in today health care system. Quite often patients have no opportunity to get medical assistance they need in their native country and so they choose another country, hospital and doctors able to provide them with the most up-to-date and timely medical examination and care. The experts of the medical tourism market gathered at the round table “Medical tourism. Current and future tendencies” held October 10 in the framework of the largest travel trade fair in the Russian North-West INWETEX-CIS TRAVEL MARKET. The event was organised by the St. Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development with support of Saint-Petersburg Express Ltd. (RESTEC® Group).

According to the recent study demonstrated at the Global Wellness Tourism Congress, the medical tourism market shows rapid growth. The income has increased from 40 billion US dollars in 2004 to $ 0.5 trillion, which amounts to 14% of the total income in tourism ($ 3.2 trillion). In 2012 the medical tourism market comprised 1.8% of the global GDP. According to the study, this sector will grow by 9.9% on average per year within the next five years; this rate is two times higher than in other sectors and it is estimated to reach $ 678 500 000 000 by 2017 that is 16% of the overall tourism income.

The issue of cooperation between health services suppliers and tourism professionals is the most topical today and demands detailed and scrupulous discussion, especially considering the current situation in the travel market and aspects of business management in Russia.

One of the urgent challenges on the agenda of travel agencies providing medical tourism services is to expand the staff with specialists able to sell efficiently medical tourism services to their clients. To this day, the interaction “travel agency - health/rehabilitation centre” has been realised completely unproductively: travel managers can advise their customers only on accommodation, catering and additional services, thus proving the urgent need to reform the system of management and workflow in travel agencies.

One more obstacle for the medical tourism development in Russia is the lack of medical employees in Russian regions. Therefore patients are not likely to get high-quality treatment even including commercial health care. The sector requires making medical services more affordable for average citizens. It’s of vital importance to raise awareness of services provided by medical institutions situated in the nearest big cities and neighbouring countries aimed to enhance their service quality, apply advanced technologies and high-tech rehabilitation methods.

INWETEX-CIS TRAVEL MARKET 2014 International Travel Trade Fair highlighted the round table on medical tourism serving to generate solutions and outline tendencies for more efficient cooperation of travel business and health care. The main agenda of the round table on medical tourism were development prospects of this industry in St. Petersburg and in the Northwestern Region of Russia. Among the topics of the meeting were: assessment of the current state, prospects and development tendencies of the inbound medical tourism in St. Petersburg, staff training programmes on medical and rehabilitation tourism in St. Petersburg and organisational issues regarding tourist and medical services sales.

The round table on medical tourism allowed taking a good look around the sector, discussing relevant issues and outlining further steps towards addressing the industry-related challenges. The round table encompassed the broadest spectrum of specific topics regarding both health care and tourism.  

In 2014 the round table on medical tourism consisted of two sections: theoretical – expert opinions sharing, presentations, outlining industry tendencies and problems; practical – methods, expertise and developments of tourist and medical institutions and relevant vocational education centres, staff training and sales of tourist and medical services.

The round table was opened with the speeches by Rima Sachunova, Deputy Chairman of St. Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development; Lyudmila Ivanova, General Director of Saint-Petersburg Express Ltd. and Alexander Gurlev, Head of the Department of Medical Rehabilitation at the Committee for Public Health of St. Petersburg. All speakers emphasised the relevance and urgency of joint efforts towards efficient solutions in tourist and medical industry with the help of business events of this kind.

The speakers:

Andrei Trapeznikov – General and Medical Director at "The Dunes" Health Resort, Head of the Department of Health Resort Therapy, Cand. Med. Sc., Assistant Professor, gave his outlook on current state of the industry and outlined the main problems of outbound and inbound medical tourism. Today Russian medical institutions face such challenges as the low level of accommodation and services, the lack of specialists among tour operators, insufficient motivation among host specialists, and the lack of state support in inbound medical tourism.

Anatoliy Menshov - President of the North-West Resorts Association spoke on achievements of health resorts of Kurortny District of St. Petersburg, special features of resort medicine development and the ways to make better use of resort facilities for treatment and rehabilitation of patients.

Elena Gorbashko -  Elena Gorbashko, Vice-Rector, Head of  the Department of Economics and Quality Management of the Saint Petersburg State University of Engineering and Economics, Doctor of Economics, Professor and her colleagues Oleg Sergeev, Professor at the Department of Recreation and Tourism, Cand. Med. Sc., and Tamara Ochirova, Assistant Professor at the Department of Recreation and Tourism, Cand.Econ.Sc., - discussed the problematic issues in staff training at travel agencies providing medical services. Development of the industry requires highly qualified employees who have a good understanding of the range of tourist services they offer and advantages of the Russian medical tourism; able to cooperate directly with medical tourism services suppliers and efficiently select potential customers in medical tourism. Employees should also who have profound knowledge in quality management of medical tourism services in Russia, apply material and technical database and opportunities of application of St. Petersburg customer database, including services regarding compulsory medical insurance. In order to meet these challenges, the specialists from the Saint Petersburg State University of Engineering and Economics have developed staff training programme aimed to improve the management system and workflow of travel companies, in particular regarding medical tourism services.

Pavel Andrienko – General Director of Amiro-SPb OOO uncovered the problems of service selection and booking in medical tourism, spoke on special aspects of search for resort and medical tours. Today Russia does not possess a uniform specialised system for online booking of resort services. The available online booking systems don't allow considering necessary basic features of medical tourism. To address this challenge in a practical way the specialists from Amiro - SPb have developed the service that meets the basic needs regarding medical tourism services. The new service was demonstrated to trade visitors and experts at the round table and at the exhibition venue. 

The issues of confidential information, legal support of patients in Russia and abroad were highlighted by Natalia Novozhilova from GmbH. Her speech was dedicated to the ways of addressing the issues of certification of service companies in medical tourism, transparency and safety and other issues by the example of the German clinic Junisa.

The foreign experts with experience in collaboration with Russian patients and familiar with special features of the Baltic market of medical services Zhinis Gintautas , Regional Director of  Kardiolita Private Hospital; Rasiukas Ricardas, Director of Gradiali Health Centre (Palanga, Lithuania); Mikhail Bartashevich, Vice President of Turizmas Lietuvoje Association, representative of the Lithuanian Tourist Club in Russia, noted "friendliness", convenient geographical location and transport accessibility of Baltic hospitals and health resorts, multilingual medical personnel, high quality of medical services and low cost of accommodation and health care in medical institutions around the Baltic states. All these aspects demonstrate competitive advantages of these countries in medical tourism and the strong basis for establishment of the Сross-Border Tourist and Medical Region.

The round table was closed with the speeches by medical practitioners Evgeny Trofimov, physician, Cand. Med. Sc., St. Petersburg Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education, Scandinavia Clinic and Alexei Popov, Deputy Medical Director for Extrabudgetary Activities and Marketing at City hospital No. 40 in St. Petersburg. The speakers outlined the potential od St. Petersburg medical institutions, treatment and rehabilitation methods and technologies in Russian hospitals.

Key issues discussed at the round table aroused a lively interest among the participants. The experts noted that the main focus today has switched to the main problem of medical tourism in Russia - the lack of competitive software and accommodation services. The absence of these components makes it impossible to develop the medical tourism business productively. Summing up the round table, the participants drew up practical recommendations and suggestions on cluster programme for cooperation between medical and travel companies of the Baltic Region.

Professional meetings of this kind between representatives of travel business and medical industry foster new solutions of comprehensive problems, outlining and consolidation of joint efforts towards development of medical tourism in Russia.

15.10.2014