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by Euro Reporter
2013-07-23 11:44:21
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Rich Russians eye medical tourism to Finland

Sitting on a hospital bed with a slight smile on her face, Valentina Micheeva looks a decade younger than her 80 years as she explains how four days earlier she had her hip replaced - not in her native Russia but at a clinic in Finland. A sports-loving woman, she had to stop jogging because her hip ached and, despite the pain, she was unable to get an operation performed at home in Moscow. "I was too old to get prosthesis. They only gave me painkillers," she said. "There are good doctors in Russia. But too many people want to visit them! If you don't have connections, it's very complicated." The only solution that remained was surgery abroad. "My daughter lives in Finland. She heard about the Coxa (Clinic) on television and told me to come here," she said.

Each year, the Coxa Clinic in Tampere in southern Finland, which is majority public-owned, welcomes about 20 Russians among its 3,000 patients. "It's not a lot yet, but we haven't been looking for foreign patients for a long time," said Tarmo Martikainen, the clinic's CEO. "We would like to have a hundred foreign patients per year," he added. Coxa HealthCareFinland, together with other Finnish hospitals, has formed a group to attract Russian patients, seeking to benefit from the Finnish health sector's competitive advantages. Although they're out of reach for most Russians, Finnish healthcare providers say their services are competitively priced compared with other countries targeting Russia's wealthy. "Our prices are lower than in Germany for instance, and we're much closer. You only need six hours to go by train from Saint Petersburg to Tampere," said Jorma Pajamaaki, one of the clinic's surgeons. Treating foreign patients however poses some problems. "Language is probably the biggest obstacle," said Pajamaaki.

To tackle the language barrier, Coxa has recruited Russian staff such as Irina Ivanova, a medical doctor who is in charge of receiving new patients and translating for them. Next to her hospital bed, Valentina Micheeva proudly displays a stack of laminated vocabulary cards showing the same words in Russian and in Finnish.  "Coming to Finland for surgery is very expensive for the Russian patients. I think it's about the price of a (luxury) car," Ivanova said. In recent years, Finnish medical institutions have been seeking to take advantage of flaws in the Russian health system. It's already big business, but it could expand even more. In 2011, about 10,000 Russians spent 15 million Euros ($19.5 million) on health services in Finland, ranging from dental surgery to cancer treatments. Industry professionals hope to see the market triple by 2020. "Finland advertises more and more abroad about its medical facilities," said Martikainen. "Logically, it turns to Russia because it is the nearest market."

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Could traditional healing save Finland billions?

Practitioners of Kalevala limb-adjustment, a traditional healing method named after the Finnish national epic, seek approval by the medical establishment. Professor Emeritus Osmo Hänninen claims such traditional medicine could bring over three billion Euros’ savings – as well as improving the work capacities of the masses. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) rake up annual costs of over three billion Euros. Some 2.5 billion of this sum is made up of lost work contributions, while care and rehabilitation swallows up 0.6 billion Euros. Practitioners of Kalevala limb-adjustment claim their treatments, proved effective in the field of MSDs, could bring about annual savings between 3-4 billion Euros.

Professor Emeritus Osmo Hänninen, a former Rector of Kuopio University, says doctors are in a key position when it comes to realising such potential savings. Hänninen laments the low level of proficiency in hands-on treatment among the medical profession in Finland. “If we could get doctors to respect hands-on treatments, we could make savings. According to our research, customers rate treatments given by hand higher than pharmaceutical interventions,” Hänninen says.

Though sceptics might want to dismiss Kalevala limb-adjustment, there exists a considerable body of scientific research backing up its effectiveness. “Between 2003 and 2006 Kuopio University carried out an in-depth study [of Kalevala limb-adjustment]. All the students I have trained, who are physiotherapists and massage therapists, noted that it is based purely on anatomy,” says master limb adjuster Kaarlo Erkoma. In the study, some 14 Kalevala healers were shown to effectively treat pains in the back, neck and shoulders. “Kalevala limb-adjustment first starts with relaxing the musculature and correcting malpositions. We don’t treat the symptom, but try to find out the cause of the ailment. We also don’t do anything by force; instead, we get the body metabolism and blood circulation to operate normally with a light touch. This brings about pain relief,” Erkoma explains. Kalevala limb-adjustment is based on ancient folk healing traditions that have been best preserved in the region of Ostrobothnia, in western Finland.

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Forget credit cards, you can pay with your face

Uniqul, a Finnish start-up, has patented and tested a unique payment system that does away with many security worries about paying for items in a store. In Uniqul's system, your face is your PIN.

The company is going to roll out terminals in the Helsinki area soon. The actual mechanism is as simple as it sounds: To confirm a transaction at point of sale, the user simply has to present their face to the camera, watch for their ID to pop up, and then click "OK" on a tablet display to confirm that yes; they actually do want to make a purchase. There's said to be no payment card involved, no wallet, no mobile phone use involved--which implies that the system stores your ID centrally along with details of your payment method. Uniqul says you can register with almost any payment system, from PayPal to traditional cards, and the data is protected by "military grade" encryption.

Designed to improve the security and speed of transactions, the business model of Uniqul may actually be its best innovation. Like Square--which it's a direct threat too--Uniqul is aimed at smaller businesses. It's likely to be free for merchants, while users pay a small stipend to allow transactions within a certain radius of a chosen point, such as their own home. €0.99 a month unlocks terminals in a 1-2 km radius, and €6.99 is the total wallet-free option.


           
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