Business for a Lady, or My Life in Medical Tourism

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Author’s Note

There is regrettably little literature on medical tourism. That’s what prompted me to share my experience in this field. I hope this book proves useful to anyone looking to open a medical tourism business.
Today lots of people get the wrong idea that medical tourism providers are a thing of the past. After all, all you have to do these days is go online, find a clinic that suits you, email a request, and travel to the clinic’s country. Sure enough, today that may seem par for the course — but there’s a but.

To make the right decision, one on which your life or the lives of your loved ones might depend, you need to know how things stand in the international medical-tourism market; which provider to approach about treating a particular disease; and which providers offer prices that meet your budget. I’ve been researching the medical-tourism market for more than twelve years. Over that span, I’ve traveled almost the whole world, keeping abreast of the latest treatment methods. Many of my clients complete their treatment successfully. It’s no coincidence that I am considered an expert in this field and that I often get invited to make speeches at medical-tourism conferences in Russia and in a variety of other countries.

I dedicate this book to my mother, Polina Borisovna Sadykhov, who was my spiritual mentor and took care of raising my daughter to give me time to pursue my favorite occupation.


Would you like for your job to be something you were passionate about and to benefit others?

Would you like to travel the world without paying a penny?

Would you like to work remotely — at home, at a hotel, on a plane — whenever is convenient to you, instead of in your office nine to five?

If so, then this book is for you.

As a kid, I dreamed of helping people — namely, of curing them of scary diseases such as cancer. I didn’t make scientific discoveries in this field, but I approached my dream in a different way.

I will never forget what an instructor for an entrepreneurship course I attended in Israel once said: the world’s population is made up of the entrepreneurial and the employed, with the former accounting for only ten percent of the total. Even back then I clearly understood what I was, and I couldn’t imagine myself working for an employer. I was raring to come up with and try ideas and take risks, deriving great pleasure from the process.

Thus began my life in the business world, which later on led me to the interesting and promising niche of medical tourism.

Today I own a successful medical-tourism company and travel around the world, giving talks as an expert speaker at medical tourism conferences in and outside Russia.

Chapter One. Introduction: Medical Tourism — How It All Began…

Medical tourism refers to the practice of providing medical services outside the patient’s home system — in another region or in another country. Often, it involves traveling abroad both for recreation and for highly qualified medical care.

Medical tourism also includes health-resort treatment and treatment for serious diseases abroad when the patient’s home country cannot provide the necessary treatment or wait times for healthcare are long, as well as solutions to a variety of aesthetic problems. In recent years, medical tourism has been increasingly in demand, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue to the countries investing in its development.

Let’s look at the reasons why people go for treatment abroad.

There are seven of them:

· Service quality

· Price (it can be lower than in the patient’s home country)

· Higher service level

· Availability (no wait times)

· Medical plus vacation travel

· Confidentiality

· More flexible legislation (e.g., stem-cell treatments are banned in some countries and not in others)

But, needless to say, treatment quality is the key reason.

The Start of the Journey

I took up medical tourism back in Israel, although I didn’t use the term at the time. I took groups of Israelis for treatment and rehabilitation to Karlovy Vary and also set up groups to go for treatment to the Dead Sea. My graduate thesis in the University of Haifa’s Faculty of Tourism dealt with the Czech Republic — the tourist and cultural aspects of Prague and treatment and rehabilitation in Karlovy Vary.

When I moved for family reasons to Moscow, I realized I needed to open some kind of tourism business in Russia, even though the competition was fairly tough. In 2006, medical tourism was only just starting out, and suddenly traveling to Israel for treatment became popular. And it so happened I had some good contacts in Israel. So I ended up deciding to open a medical-tourism provider. I had a website designed and rented an office (staffed by only two employees in the beginning), and that got us started. That period saw us work together a lot with Israeli medical providers — the Herzliya Medical Center, Hadassah and Ichilov — often having patients diagnosed at Israeli clinics and rehabilitated at the Dead Sea.

We got some promising contacts at the Medical Salon expo in 2006, when clinics from various countries came to Moscow. Swiss healthcare was developing especially well. It was then that we built our database of VIP clients, many of whom still use us to this day.

Taking part in the Moscow Healthcare expo, also in 2006, was fruitful as well: I met some doctors and insurance companies with whom I later worked and even made friends.

We were doing well and drew in some repeat clients, who recommended us to friends. For example, there was a client from North Ossetia who referred her entire clan.

Clients came in with diverse needs: some sought simple checkups while others had far more serious health problems such as cancer or heart or orthopedic conditions.

We not only arranged for the treatment of our patients abroad but also took groups of doctors abroad so that they could share experience with foreign peers or receive training.

I have a vivid memory of one trip to Spain accompanying a Presidential Administration medical group of sixty. We had an interesting business discussion involving representatives of the health ministries of Spain and Russia, as well as exciting evening events.

The group members were interesting to talk to, and it was a great pleasure for me to work with these wonderful specialists — intelligent, highly educated yet easy-going people.

We also had a great time working together with REN TV, a Russian TV channel: Marianna Maximovskaya’s crew for the director Sergei Mitrofanov’s documentary about medical tourism. The filming took place in four countries: Russia, Israel, Germany, and Tunisia. The documentary talked about the wonderful doctor Jamal, a plastic surgeon from Tunisia, to whom French and English women went for plastic surgery. He was second to none, and his prices were far more affordable than in Europe.

During the filming in Düsseldorf, I nearly died. In a diagnostic center, they slid me into an MRI machine to demonstrate how it worked. Angling for a good view, the cameraman came too close to the machine’s rear. His camera bucked out of his hands, flew right toward my head, but miraculously jerked to a stop just an inch away. As it turned out later, taking a camera so close to the MRI machine was a definite no-no (there was a powerful magnet inside), but no one had warned us.

The documentary had a lot of interviews with our patients; I was interviewed too, as the CEO. I remember saying the best investment was the one you made in your health, and I still think so. When the documentary premiered on REN TV, they were inundated with calls from patients and potential partners. There was another project we had with REN-TV, one about the German spa town of Bad Kissingen. The TV channel was fun to work with.

As we picked up traction, our staff grew to a total of seven, and we moved to a big office.

I traveled a lot to different countries, getting to know clinics, doctors, and their achievements. We formed partnerships and friendships with many clinics’ management and staff.

Times Change

We came through the 2008–2009 recession unscathed, and we were doing well. In 2012, however, things got worse: competition intensified, medical-tourism agencies popped up everywhere, and almost every tour operator opened a department to send their clients for treatment abroad. The Israeli market was seized by Israeli intermediaries with websites in Russian. They posed as clinics, and Russians preferred to turn directly to them, ending up having to pay exorbitantly high bills.

Our clients dwindled, and the few who got in touch tended to disappear soon without as much as a thank you or goodbye.

Regrettably, thinking that everyone owed you something was part of the Russian mindset.

Anyway, we couldn’t afford advertising, and even paying the rent was a struggle. At first I thought we had to do a little belt-tightening, but then I realized we had to change something soon before it was too late.

My expenses could do with some streamlining. I cut the staff to the absolute minimum and moved to a smaller office. Things looked up a bit, but the situation remained precarious since I still had debts to pay off.

In 2007, I had read The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss. The book had left a deep impression on me and given me a dream to break free from the office routine, but I couldn’t extricate myself from the lifestyle I was used to.

After agonizing over it for quite a while, I decided to run the business without an office. I was reading a lot that it was standard practice in Europe and the US. Times had changed. I organized my workspace such that I could work in any place and at any time. I moved all the software I needed to my laptop and even my iPhone, and outsourced all HR procedures. I signed up for Knopka, a remote accounting platform — and didn’t regret I did. They offered efficient, professional, attractively priced services. Promotion and PR became an important part of my business strategy. There had been a time I’d paid through the nose for advertising the website, but the results hadn’t been outstanding. Now I knew I was just swindled out of my money. What helped me realize that was an online marketing course I took that taught me how to promote the company without breaking the bank. Now I have an employee in charge of advertising and PR, though I still keep an eye on how things are going.

Today I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders: things got better, I started to get more things done and, most important, I stopped being a slave to my business, a contrast to the time when I couldn’t be away from the office that much because I had to monitor staff whose performance left a lot to be desired. At last, I feel free.

Chapter Two. How We Operate Now: A Dream Come True

We upload all client requests to the amoCRM system. It lets us conveniently handle them, track them throughout the process, maintain a sales funnel, and evaluate how efficiently we perform. I’d recommend the system to everyone: it’s easy to use and has oodles of useful features aboard.

I’ve already mentioned Knopka: the remote accounting platform is an affordable, multipurpose tool. The platform lets you issue a client with invoices bearing your seal and signature and email those invoices from any device you have hooked up to the platform (you can even use an iPhone). That function comes in handy when you’re on the go.

To book plane and train tickets, we use teletrain.ru, another online service that’s convenient and reliable.

We’re also signed up for an insurance company, making it easy to get health insurance policies for people traveling abroad.

These are pretty much all the tools we use.

Today there are many platforms — Bookimed, Archimedicx, Medigo, EasyCase, to name just a few — that help medical-tourism agencies get in touch with a variety of clinics. We don’t use these platforms because during our twelve years in the business, we have established our own successful partnerships with clinics, and our partner list is constantly expanding. I believe that the use of these platforms turns all agencies into identical clones, making them lose their competitive edge. What’s more, using the platforms doesn’t help your staff develop their skill, since they only deal with mechanically sending requests to different clinics, looking for one ready to undertake treatment of a particular patient. With that said, the platforms might be convenient for startups that don’t yet have their own partnerships with clinics or qualified staff.

As an industry veteran, we only work with trusted, long-standing contacts that I personally inspected. We profoundly research the market for the most popular fields of medicine, and we are familiar with treatment technology, doctors, and pricing policies in different countries.

So what does our work involve today? Basically, it rests on three pillars.


One of the most important parts of what we do is handling clients’ requests for treatment.

We get an average of 150 requests a month. If the client knows exactly where they want to go for treatment, we proceed with that option. If, however, we can offer them something more effective, we recommend them the better option. They then pick the option that best suits them.

When the client doesn’t know where to go for treatment and instead only describes their problem to us, we offer them three separate treatment options to choose from, so that they can compare the prices in different countries.

If the client picks an offer, we proceed with arranging their trip to the clinic. We take care of arranging everything for the trip, helping with obtaining a visa, booking plane tickets, handling medical insurance for traveling abroad, booking transportation, accommodation, interpreters, and cultural tours, and we can also accompany the patient to the clinic.

For medical documents that need to be translated, we have a contract in place with a translation company staffed by professional medical translators.

Assisting the patient before they choose a clinic and during the trip as well as counseling them after treatment is an essential part of what we do.


Many of our partners first found us online. Many are people I met at medical-tourism expos or medical conferences — events I attend or participate in all the time. We work together with clinics from the world over. I invariably visit each potential partner to get acquainted with the doctors and look at the equipment, international certification, and statistics. This helps me assess the service level and quality the clinic offers. We also have a team that provides consulting services to non-Russian clinics seeking to enter the CIS market. This service is currently in steady demand.

PR and Promotion

Nowadays, the most effective and affordable advertising is online advertising. That’s why it’s the main form of advertising that we use. We constantly update our website content, trying to make it interesting and special. Together with our partners, we come up with and promote lots of exclusive offers. Needless to say, we prefer Yandex and Google contextual ads, since these platforms help you capture your target customers. We work a lot with our social-media communities on Facebook, Instagram, VK, and Twitter. We also keep a YouTube channel (a powerful marketing tool), advertise on social media, and post useful information about us on various websites to do with medical tourism. Press releases outlining my onsite visits and participation in international medical-tourism events can be found on our website and in our online communities. Subscribers to our mailing list receive newsletters on industry topics. We also have partners with big online portals, which we use to post our company news. Over the past few months, we’ve been in the full swing of working together with Doctor, a Russian medical TV channel, expanding our news and advertising coverage.

Chapter Three. Medical Tourism in Russia as a New Line of Business

Most recently, we’re focusing on developing a new line of business: medical tourism in which people travel to, rather than from, Russia. After all, Russia has some developed medical fields, world-famous doctors, and modern hospital equipment while the prices are comparably low. We managed to build the entire logistics of receiving foreign patients in Russia: providing airport meet and greet; putting the patient up in a hotel or rental apartment; arranging for the patient to be accompanied by an interpreter in the clinic; and even putting together a cultural tour.

We have partnerships in place with some Moscow and Russian regional clinics that can provide high-tech medical care, and we have some partners in Arab countries ready to send their patients to Russia for treatment. We can provide full support for these foreign patients in Russia. We are now taking our baby steps in this direction, and we really hope that we can blaze a trail in the field and contribute to hiking up the country’s revenues.

We are also promoting dental-care tourism in Russia. What with the high dollar-exchange rate, dental services in Russia — even in Moscow — have become highly attractive to patients from outside Russia. For dental services, we work together with clinics not only in Moscow but also in Ryazan and Smolensk, where dental care is far cheaper.

To promote medical tourism in Russia, we made our website, medicatour.com, available in English. We place targeted ads using Google AdWords, and sometimes we post articles about Russian clinics, doctors, and treatment methods on websites in countries where we believe people are likely to choose Russia as a country to go to for treatment.

I am sometimes invited to speak as an expert at workshops on the development of medical tourism in Russia. I have presented reports to the Federation Council, the Ministry of Health of Buryatia, the Altai Krai Government, and the Moscow International Medical Investment Forum, to give just a few examples.

In June 2019, I am scheduled to speak at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

We have come up with several products for Russian clinics looking to develop medical tourism. These products draw upon our extensive experience working with clinics outside Russia.

Chapter Four. Assisting Foreign Partner Clinics through Consulting

MedicaTour has long experience providing promotion and PR services to clinics looking to enter the CIS market. We have well-thought-out consulting packages — Silver, Gold, and Platinum — that include a wide range of services for clinic promotion.

Unlike in the past, today’s medical-tourism market is riddled with an overabundance of offers. While in the past all that clinics had to do was sign a deal with a medical-tourism agency, times have moved on way ahead from there. You need, at least for a year, to promote the brand, arrange all sorts of PR campaigns, tout the clinic’s advantages to medical tourism agencies, and train them in how best to work with that particular clinic. As part of the Platinum package, we arrange consulting meetings for non-Russian specialists at Moscow partner clinics. Usually this helps those specialists attract a lot of patients from abroad.

Our experience includes working with the Swiss company ALIVIA, Bundang Jesaeng and SAM hospitals (South Korea), the Izmir University Medical Center (Turkey), the Rome University Hospital (Italy), the Punarnava Ayurveda Hospital network and MAX Healthcare Hospitals (India), the orthopedic clinic Carolina Medical Center (Poland), the Szent Lukács Dental Clinic (Hungary), the cosmetic clinic Aquila Medical (Singapore), and many others.

Chapter Five. MedTravelExpo Sponsorship

In 2017, thanks to our rich experience and partner base including both Russian and non-Russian clinics and resorts, the management of the Health and MedTravelExpo exhibitions asked us to help organize that year’s MedTravelExpo in Moscow and the business program for the exhibition.

The MedTravelExpo exhibition is an international medical-tourism event held in Russia as part of the Russian Health Week and supported by Russia’s government, Ministry of Health, and Chamber of Commerce.

Our first experience organizing the expo was a success. All the exhibition areas on offer and the business program we put together jointly with the Association of Medical Tourism Agencies were sold out. I took part in the training workshops for medical tourism agencies held as part of the business program.

The second year of our collaboration with MedTravelExpo was even more fruitful. The number of participants doubled, and we kicked the business program up a notch. As part of the business program, I organized a panel called Prospects for Health Insurance in Russia, to which renowned experts, leading market players, were invited. We had an explosive and absorbing discussion dealing with Russia’s health insurance sector and prospects for improving the country’s mandatory health insurance programs.

Chapter Six. Case Studies

It gives us great satisfaction when we save someone’s life; when a baby is born to a couple who were desperate to have one; when plastic surgery makes a woman beautiful and young again; when you help people with incurable diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s; or when someone blind or visually impaired regains sight.

Here are some of my accomplishments. Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

Stage 4 Prostate Cancer Treatment

About two years ago, Sergei Bogomazov, 60, a prostate cancer patient, got in touch. I immediately offered him Da Vinci surgery at a German hospital, but he asked me to find some new, nonsurgical method, and he also declined chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

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