Doctors and managers at three private medical institutions in Latvia have proven that investment in the health industry can turn a profit if one has the quality service and business management.
ARS, a full-service private medical center, and EGV, a clinic treating infertility, are pioneering the concept of private initiative in a country where health care still remains firmly in state hands.
Since its creation in 1988, ARS has become the biggest and most progressive private medical institution in Latvia, employing over 400 doctors and boasting an annual turnover of 2 million lats (3.2 million euros).
Maris Andersons, president of ARS, said the key to the clinic's successful growth was its astute investments. "The strategy has been to purchase the best equipment, which allows patients to get the most effective treatment - as well as attract professional doctors," he said, adding that $3 million has been invested in equipment.
Another crucial factor, said Andersons, was speed.
"We insist that it is much better if the patient comes directly to the specialist rather than to the family doctor," he said. "Usually family physicians don't have very specific knowledge in all medical fields that may lead to incomplete or wrong diagnoses."
Latvia's current health care system provides that every citizen may choose his own family physician. Andersons believes that this system is archaic and that only specialists can provide the best treatment.
"The family doctor works as a gatekeeper: He appoints the patient to the specialist, and that takes time," he said.
And in spite of the significant costs, ARS' client lists keep growing at a staggering pace.
"Currently ARS has about 250,000 patients, and this number increases by about 1,500 new patients a month," said Andersons.
Most of ARS' clients – 95 percent, according to surveys - are highly literate people with an average monthly income of over 200 lats. What's more, only 60 percent of them live in Riga.
"People acknowledge the importance of effective treatment and choose the best medical service they can afford," said Andersons.
EGV, a private clinic founded in 1998, helps treat infertility. Headed by gynecologist Voldemars Lejins, the clinic uses progressive methods and techniques, such as in vitro fertilization.
EGV, according to Lejins, has seen its reputation spread far beyond the borders of Latvia. "If in 2000 there were about 10 patients per day, then in 2003 the number of patients have increased up to 20 – 25 a day. Moreover, we have clients from the U.S.A., Ireland, Denmark, Russia and Italy," said Lejins.
Successful operations and relatively inexpensive procedures are EGV's primary selling points. "One IVF procedure in Latvia costs about $800 – $900 - not including remedies and tests. In Sweden, however, the operation costs about $2,000, and even up to $6,000 in the U.S.A.," said Lejins.
Since 1999, the clinic maintains the first and only sperm-bank in Latvia, and if in 2000 the clinic had only two specialists, now the clinic has eight. A newly opened operating room corresponds to European standards, and in future the clinic plans to purchase equipment to determine sex and possible pathologies of human embryo while still in the test-tube.
One other private clinic has thrived by enhancing beauty. Janis Gilis Private Clinic offers a wide variety of plastic surgery operations that are seeing greater demand as the Latvian economy improves.
According to Gilis, the number of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery operations since 1998 has significantly increased.
"The liposculpture operation ??? number has increased from 5 in 1988 to 22 in 2002, and breast argumentation from 48 to 74 operations," said Gilis.
As with EGV, Gilis said that more foreigners are turning to his clinic thanks to excellent results and comparitively low prices.
"It is no secret that plastic surgery is quite expensive. However, Latvians are striving more and more to improve their physical appearance," added Gilis.
The clinic is now averaging some 500 operations per year, with clients spending from 100 lats on the simplest operations such as scar or tattoo removal to 1,500 lats on facial surgery.
Gilis established his clinic in 1992 for the purposes of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. Over the past decade the clinic's personnel has grown to 16, while investments have amount to $500,000.