The export of health care services as one cure for Estonian economy

16.10.2010 / http://www.arengufond.ee/eng/news/foresight/news1799/

To build up a credible and able system for exporting health care and wellness services, Estonia should start with specializing and proceed to developing a high level medical hub of the region, advices the foresight report of Development Fund. The future and possibilities to form the export of health care and wellness services into new growth field for Estonia was the theme of the Development Fund's forum "Health Care Services 2018" ("Tervishoiuteenused 2018"), where the deciders and agents of the field participated.

The sector of exporting health care services has so far been marginal in Estonia, but could through skilful mixing of world trends and Estonian strengths become one of the fields of new growth of Estonian economy. By the words of Ain Aviksoo, the member of board of the centre of political research Praxis, who studied the state of and attitude towards health care services export, the income from this export is now scarce 350 million EEK, but in middle term perspective could rise to 1-2 billion EEK. "This is comparable to the flow in IT sector exports," placed Aaviksoo the expectations into broader context.

Critics bring out some problems springing from the pushing of the health service export topic, but the international experience shows that with skilled planning the export could bring additional assets to health care system and raise the quality of the whole health care services, both for local and foreign clients. 68% of head of Estonian hospitals and health care businesses questioned for the research believed in the positive effect.

Depending on the level of ambition to develop the health care service export Estonia can choose between different strategies or combine them together. The choices include specializing, health care travel and medical care, high-level medical hub and complex solutions in the demand fields. One of the authors of the report, Development Fund's expert on service industry Imre Mürk said that the growth possibilities to be achieved fastest are in the synergy of health care, wellness and tourist sector, while the more ambitious strategic choice would lead to creation of regional medical hub. Latter anticipates the prolong readiness to invest with goal orientation and in the sector of medical services and affiliated fields.

The forum debated deeper on the possibilities to give a boost to Estonian export through health care travelling. As the outer factors (e.g. aging of population in Europe) are favourable and the importance of creating a common strategy for health care has been recognised by some agents in the field, the main question raised was the leading of the changing attitude, especially from the public sector.

Who should give the initial signal to start join effort – this question needs answering in the future.

In the view of the experience of the successful states and also considering the Estonian start position, the development of health care service export needs long-term cooperation from private and public sector. Hence the report proposes for further discussions the concrete idea of establishing the agency of health care export. “The agency should not be a real institution, but a virtual cooperation agreement to draw together the interested sides for acting under a common, divisible strategy and for helping to achieve a breakthrough on the international market,” said Imre Mürk.

In addition to the presentations of Estonian experts the participants of the forum heard direct experiences from Keith Pollard, the author of several publications on the health care traveling in Europe; plastic surgeon Janis Zarzeckis, one of the leaders of Latvian health care service export alliance Baltic Care and Richard Petho, the founder of the most successful dental service exporter in Europe, Hungarian firm VitalEurope.

Both the report and the forum are part of Development Fund’s service industry foresight.