15 December 2014, 16:13
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The Medical Industry in Armenia: Fact vs. Fiction

In Soviet times, Armenia boasted of some of the best Medical Schools in the USSR. However, today, some are skeptical about the healthcare standards of post-soviet medical facilities. ImYerevan held a recent interview with Raffi Elliott, the founder and CEO of GetTreated.co, a Yerevan-based startup providing international travelers access to affordable medical treatment. During the interview, we got answers to some of the myths surrounding the medical industry, separating the fact from the fiction and discussing why Armenia might quickly be evolving into a regional health hub.

 

What is Armenia’s current healthcare system like?

Armenia, as with most developing economies, has two medical systems, a private and public one. The public system is often in poor shape. However, Armenia’s better doctors have been spearheading the development of the private system in the country, many of them sharing their time between work in public hospitals, and private clinics which greatly supplements their incomes.

 

What’s the lowdown on some of its contemporary obstacles?

Armenia’s medical sector has suffered from a lack of modern equipment particularly in the years immediately following Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union. This was partially compensated for by donations of hard-to-find equipment by Armenian Diaspora organisations such as the AMIC, and eventually through the accessibility and affordability of such equipment abroad. However, another issue worth mentioning is the fact that in the years following independence, there was little oversight on the quality of education and some people graduated without the necessary qualifications. Armenian medical faculties have been working to solve these issues through partnerships with Western Universities and finding other ways to modernise the teaching methods and experience that doctors receive in Armenia.

Nevertheless, in Armenia, like other places in the region (and the world), you get what you pay for. So, sure, there are doctors who aren’t that good. But you can absolutely find some great doctors by international standards, particularly in dental and plastic surgeon fields, where you can find some of the world’s best. What was surprising to us when we were doing the research for Get Treated was the number of doctors living here with international accreditation. Armenia, having finally signed the Open Skies Agreement, is in a good strategic place to receive and treat patients from abroad.

 

What is GetTreated?

GetTreated is a startup based in Yerevan that is working to build an online platform where people all over the world can have access to information about affordable medical treatment. Through GT, patients can find cost and time-effective medical treatment, even if they’re traveling in a foreign and unknown region of the world. It does this by providing a platform that organizes every step of the patient’s medical travel by automatically booking consultations, operation dates, flights and hotels and easily removes the need for patients to go through the hassle of contacting agencies, unlike other companies which offer medical tourism options. GT will make revenue by adding a mark-up price to the quote offered to patients on medical travel expenses. We are basically to medical travel what Expedia.com is to vacation packages.

 

Why and how did the idea for GT emerge?

A few years ago, I started a web development firm called Nest Innovations, which offered web marketing solutions and small business packages to start ups around the world. It was pretty successful, but I wanted to do something with more of an impact. In Armenia, once you are working as an entrepreneur in the IT sector, you can basically do whatever you want. Because you’re not limited by physical boundaries or borders. All you need is a good idea and to surround yourself with the right team.

So, one day, as I was ordering a hamburger, I started to reminisce about a positive experience I had at a doctor’s here. It was clean, it was professional, and I thought I’d like to see more of this, I’d like for more people to know about this. Having experienced the widely known “public” healthcare system in Canada, I was impressed. Also, my libertarian background was pretty important in shaping my views on healthcare. I want it to be accessible to everyone. And I wanted Armenia to be that place where that is possible for people. I’m sure you’ve heard that quote by Bill Gates, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” With that in my mind, I thought to myself, “How I develop medical tourism in Armenia without having to actually do very much?”

Then, as I sat there, waiting for my burgers, I thought, “Hey wouldn’t it be simple if, instead of going to all the hassle of going to all these different agencies and questionable sites, if there was something like an Expedia.com, but for medical travel. So, I rushed to find a pen and paper, and started jotting ideas down. Since I had the team, all I needed was a partner, which I found in Tom Svensson, a Swedish e-commerce entrepreneur.

 

How is Get Treated playing a role in Armenia’s contemporary medical industry?

As an idea, it’s 6 months old. As a working concept, it’s 4 months old, but it’s already making big strides in representing Armenia to the world. It was recently accepted for the Web Summit, the biggest tech conference in Europe which takes place in Dublin, Ireland (which I was pretty happy about, as I’m half-Irish… some of my friends even call me “Hye-rish”). There, I presented the concept, made some good contacts, and won $10,000 in Google Cloud money.

GetTreated is trying to put Armenia on the map for medical travel. We intend to help develop this sector in two ways. First, by offering services in Armenia to people around the world, we help raise the country’s prestige, while setting Armenia to become a medical hub in the wider region. Second, by selecting only the doctors and clinics of the highest caliber, and helping them gain an opportunity to work internationally while being based in Armenia, we help show others that if they can maintain their skillset, they too can benefit from medical travel in Armenia.

 

 

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