Substandard and irregular outpatient work at the primary care level in cities as well as rural towns; a lack of clear instructions for emergencies; poor availability of timely information, advice and medical assistance – this is just a small list of problems in Russian medicine that the coronavirus situation has highlighted. Yevgeny Kan, Deputy CEO of Etnamed, a federal clinic providing concierge medical services, reflects on how the new virus will affect the medical services market and which areas it will influence the most.
So far, Russia has not been hit by a major outbreak, but we do have patients with a confirmed COVID 19, and their number is growing every day. While earlier, society largely relied on a bit of luck, now it is gradually dawning on everyone, including the top governing bodies, that the problem is more serious than it seemed at the beginning.
We saw how China responded to the threat – in a cool and coordinated manner, as the situation required. As a result of their tough action, the outbreak is now declining. In Europe, the response to the coronavirus was much less effective, and we can see what the consequences are.
It is difficult to say how our country will respond. But a number of problems that the coronavirus exposed certainly need to be addressed. One of them is our healthcare system being very unbalanced. I can still remember how the sanitary-epidemiological service was set up during the Soviet time, I can see how it is responding now, and I know the difference.
Currently, in the majority of Russian cities, especially low-numbered areas, residents do not have access to up-to-date information. This creates an impression that there is a lot left unsaid, which, of course, affects people’s behavior, mood and strengthens their distrust for the informing authority. Therefore, it is becoming more difficult to handle the epidemic and treat patients.
Russians don’t have an opportunity to get prompt medical advice, to say nothing about qualified medical help. It is completely unclear what to do in case of an emergency: call an ambulance, go to a clinic or what?
Asking for medical help does not always guarantee that you will get an adequate and fast response. It appears that both urgent care and outpatient clinics are slightly disoriented. I am not sure that medical workers know where to send a patient who might have the coronavirus for precise diagnostics. This is true for Moscow and the whole country in general. These situations happen because there are no clear guidelines strictly imposed by officials. Whether these guidelines exist now is a big question.
The coronavirus outbreak demonstrated limited capacities of our laboratories. Express diagnostics is not so well organized even in Moscow. This problem is directly related to another issue, also exposed by COVID 19: obviously, the level of scientific research has seriously caved in. With its weak research and development base, Russia lacks express tests for new foreign viruses and bacteria. Clearly, if we had, roughly, 100 instead of 10 infectious disease research labs, scientists would respond to the novel coronavirus ten times faster.
Therefore, changes in medical services must be related, first of all, to the market of express diagnostics and preventive medicine. As of today, these are the two weakest links in the Russian healthcare system.
We are already witnessing the first steps in this direction. Thus, in some large cities it has recently became possible to get tested for the coronavirus for a fee, including at home. When there is a demand, business will offer supply. In fact, businesses react to the situation more quickly. For instance, medical insurance companies already offer coronavirus insurance policies to those traveling abroad. Experts believe that the pandemic will change the game rules on the medical tourism market: the novel virus will boost the competition between countries for clients, patients will become pickier about medical service providers, and clinics engaged in medical tourism will have to find new approached to clients, aimed at servicing all their needs.
As for the second weak link of Russian healthcare – preventive medicine – it is impossible to streamline its work in two days. It takes time. But I hope that now, at least at the basic level, outpatient clinics will receive the necessary instructions and regulations, as well as special wards and services.
However, despite everything, there are positive things about the coronavirus pandemic. Now, when we are all witnessing an Apocalypse rehearsal, everyone got a move on. I am sure that the first conclusions about the readiness of our sanitary and epidemiological services to the outbreak were made and the problem is currently being considered.
By Yevgeny Kan, Deputy CEO of Etnamed federal concierge medical service provider