Belarus, The New Destination For Dental Tourism

Tourist numbers in Belarus are rising, and this is not only due to visa-free entry or landmarks but the country’s medicine as well. The quality-price ratio of Belarusian healthcare lures medical tourists from all over the world. What can dental tourists expect from treatment in Belarus?

The head of the Center Of Dental Tourism April Irina Shileiko explains private healthcare in Belarus.

“Choosing a private clinic in Belarus means being treated by the best doctors”

Medical tourism is not new to Belarus. High qualification of doctors and medical staff and relatively low costs, compared to other countries, even including travel and accommodation expenses, are the factors that draw medical tourists. Choosing a private clinic in Belarus automatically means being treated by the best doctors, Irina Shileiko notes – because the requirements for a license are extremely rigid in the country.

– In Belarus, licensing requirements for private medicine are more rigid than for state medicine. Working in a state-owned clinic doesn’t require a higher qualification, while private clinics aren’t allowed to employ doctors without one.

– Responsible governmental bodies also strictly control the equipment in private clinics, require a five-fold level of sterilization of instruments, carefully examine the location, organization, design, sanitary, fire security standards. The licensing committee of the Ministry of Healthcare then checks the documents from those bodies in every detail.

Fierce competition promotes quality

The head of the center is convinced: high standards of Belarusian healthcare are additionally fostered by fierce competition in the sphere.

– Okay, here are the facts. The state policy is export-oriented. State-owned clinics provide paid services and rival private clinics. Any hospital is seeking to purchase the most high-end equipment and more durable materials approved by foreign colleagues. Not only you buy those, but you also need to have skills to work with those. So clinics send their staff to international conferences, where Belarusian doctors exchange experience with foreign professionals and study the latest technological innovations.

Besides, doctors do self-control. Reputation is priceless, and if one wants clients to return, they simply can not afford using bad tools or outdated equipment. That is how high standards and internal competition contribute to the highest quality of services.

Where do lower prices come from?

The standards of healthcare are uniform worldwide, and Belarus is no exception. How does the country offer lower prices with the same quality of service?

– Again, the prices are controlled by the state. Some clinics have a separate price list for foreign citizens – the law does not prohibit it. However, most clinics don’t cash in on clients – we don’t raise prices because we treat Belarusians, too. I and my colleagues don’t care where our patients come from – we care about treating them well. We also know the power of the word of mouth. If you provide quality on-time service, a happy client will bring all of their friends to Belarus.

Belarusian tourism sphere also profits from medical tourists.

– In dentistry, for instance, there are technological processes, like making dental crowns and implants,  that require a certain time – you can not speed them up. The patient’s treatment plan is prepared in advance: doctors know when a patient arrives and departs, which days are reserved for visits and which ones are free. The free time can be used in many ways – touring, visiting landmarks, shopping. Some of our patients want to visit places where their ancestors came from. Clinics are ready to assist with this as well.

No intermediaries means a warranty for a patient

In April center, clients will be met at the airport, accommodated in the center’s hotel, and transferred back:

– We do not use the services of intermediaries. It reduces cost and serves as a warranty for the client. For example, if there are problems with an implant, the client knows who to turn to.

Most medical tourists to Belarus come from Russia and the Baltic states. The big advantage for the former is no visa; the advantage for the latter is that Belarus is easy to get to. Do Belarusian doctors speak English and can they find a common language with foreign patients?

– Highly qualified doctors often participate in conferences abroad, so foreign languages are not a problem. Earlier we had English-speaking clients coming with someone who could translate and facilitate communication between the patient and the doctor. At present, we can easily hire a translator if necessary.

During the treatment, patients need accommodation. That has been solved as well.

– Dentistry and oncology are most popular with medical tourists. For example, there are numerous guest houses close to the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology, but they aren’t enough to accommodate all clients. Many of them have to rent apartments in Borovlyany (a town in Minsk region where the Republican Oncology Center is located – author’s note) or in the neighboring towns.

When building our center in Korolyov stan (located 9km away from Minsk – author’s note), we included a mini-hotel in the project. Close accommodation is a sort of psychological pacifier – it is not a secret that many people are scared of dentists. Comfortable living conditions and homelike environment help patients calm down.

The right atmosphere as a healing factor

Technical qualification of a doctor is not enough, Irina Shileiko keeps stressing.  A lot of people freak out merely thinking about visiting a dentist. The atmosphere in a clinic is of great importance.

– Many factors play a role in that. It starts with the reception because a receptionist is the first person to meet a client, start preparing them mentally, convincing them that everything will be alright. A friendly design, eye-catching interior, cozy lounge zones – all work together, helping anxious patients to relax.

Every detail matters in communicating with a client. Some clients focus on the treatment process and want to choose the best time-and-cost options. Others find it important when a doctor accompanies them so they can ask additional questions and voice their fears. Kids trust a doctor more when they know that treatment will be followed by a surprise from a clinic.

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– The patient should always come first. Patients quickly detect empathic doctors and want appointments only with them. Not surprisingly, doctors with the same qualification may be booked unevenly – some have appointments scheduled for weeks ahead. I have witnessed many clients, who were scared during the first visit, return to their dentist with a smile. Their recommendations draw new foreign clients to the clinic.

Some patients turn to Belarusians dentists after doctors in other countries failed to help.

– Such situations are not rare. I am proud that Belarusian doctors are ready to work with difficult cases, they diagnose the problem correctly and select a relevant treatment. For instance, the jaw bone of some people is not sufficiently thick to accommodate implants. It happens for various reasons, from congenital to age-related. Many surgeons refuse to work with such patients.

– On the other hand, dentistry should not be about selling dental fillings, – the doctor continues. – It takes a lot of creative work: if old methods don’t work, you can study new ones. A surgeon from our clinic passed a course on bone grafting in Moscow and can now perform bone augmentation surgeries.  When the new bone heals, we proceed with placing implants.

What makes me especially proud of our doctors, is their professionalism – they will never start treatment if the tooth is incurable. They will save a patient’s money.

Belarusian dentists can surprise foreign patients in a good way

Medical tourists with common dental problems like cysts removal, crowns or implants placement, are usually well aware of the upcoming treatment. They have already consulted local specialists, and know why they need the treatment. Such patients are coming to Belarus for a good price and quality rather than unique procedures. Still, Belarusian dentists offer methods that can pleasantly surprise foreign guests.

– Dental problems are often accompanied by psychological traumas – at a young age, it is hard to accept the loss of teeth because of problems with gums. With proper treatment, however, it is possible to preserve teeth and gums for a long time. For example, with the help of plasmolifting, or PRP therapy. The patient’s own blood from their vein is processed into a solution that is then injected into gums to activate processes for tissue synthesis. The procedure is quite effective in combating gums diseases.

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Summing up, Irina says:

– Foreign patients should look at medical tourism wider than just treatment. They can now travel to Belarus visa-free – it’s a great opportunity to see our numerous landmarks, explore Belarusian traditions, relax in nature. Let them be not only patients but also tourists who want to mix business and pleasure.

Text by Anastasia Pankratova. Photo by Marina Serebryakova.