Medical tourism is a multi-million dollar industry, drawing people from one country to another in search of better quality or less expensive treatment. More and more Russians are now crossing China’s border in northeastern Heilongjiang province for treatment.
In China, playing with fire is a treatment for illness. Fire therapy is now all the rage among Russian visitors.
“I’ve tried many types of treatment for my rheumatism, now I stick with the fire therapy here,” said Vali, a Russian patient from Vladivostok.
A survey from a medical tourism magazine shows only a fifth of Russians from the far east were happy with their regional hospitals. Many Russians come to China for medical treatment because of the geographical proximity. Here in Suifenhe, physical check-ups and traditional Chinese medicines are very popular with Russians.
“The price is reasonable, and we get good value for money. I come here two or three times every year,” said Tamara, a Russian patient from Lake Baikal.
Visa-free entry and the acceptance of Russian rubles in Suifenhe have greatly facilitated the latest trend in medical tourism. The visitors are not exclusively from Russia’s far east, but also come from other parts of the country.
Healthcare in Russia is free. But why do many people from the far east of Russia still travel a long distance and spend their own money just to get some basic medical treatments in China?
“It is technically free, but the queue to see a doctor is long. In some cases, we have to wait one to two months just to receive some treatments. If you cannot stand the waiting, there are private clinics which are very expensive,” said Basa, a patient from Irkutsk.
“Personally, I don’t have much faith in Russia’s healthcare system. The equipment in Chinese hospitals are more advanced. It is unimaginable to see these types of equipment in the hospital where I live,” said Vacide, a patient from Vladivostok.
To cope with the increase in Russian patients, the hospital in Suifenhe greatly improved its medical facilities and human resources. Translation services are now available in every department and more experienced doctors have been hired.
“I can still remember when we first went to Russia to promote our medical services three years ago, hardly anyone was interested. Most Russians thought Chinese hospitals were incompetent at treating patients with serious illnesses,” said Zha Minghui, doctor of Suifenhe People’s Hospital, Heilongjiang province.
“The departments in which we receive the most Russian patients are currently cardiovascular care, plastic surgery, gynaecology and obstetrics and traditional Chinese medicine. We expect a 70 percent increase in the number of Russian patients next year,” said Chen Manchang, director of Suifenhe People’s Hospital, Heilongjiang province.
Pretty soon, it may be even more convenient for the Russian visitors to come here as the high-speed rail network is fast being rolled out in the China-Russia border areas. Many suggest to extend the line into Russian territory. If this happens, more Russian patients are bound to arrive.