Russian Hospital Experiences

Discussion in 'Russian Society' started by Moscow Exile, May 10, 2013.

  1. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Has anyone experience of Russian hospitals at first hand? I certainly have. I have been in hospital three times during my long, self-imposed exile in the Evil Empire. Western colleagues of mine, and not a few Russians as well, often voice their surprise over this fact, having at first assumed that my hospitalization took place in a private "Western" clinic. When they then ask me what it was like in a Russian state hospital, I simply reply: "I'm still here!"

    The first time I was in hospital was in February/March 1993. There was an outbreak of diphtheria in Moscow and I fell victim to it. I was in an isolation "box" and on a drip. It was not a pleasant experience and I thought my time was up. I was living in the former Kalingrad at the time: not the erstwhile Königsberg, but the present day Korolev (Королёв), and it was there that I first experienced the Russian state health service.

    After I had passed the crisis of my fever and was recovering, a nurse asked me when my wife was going to visit me. I told her that I was unmarried. She then asked if any friends of mine would visit me. I informed her that I had no friends in Russia, that I had only arrived in Moscow just over a month previous to my falling ill. She simply replied: "You're going to be hungry!"

    On hearing this, I wasn't that bothered, for I had little appetite at the time, of course, and the food that was given to me was adequate. I discharged myself one week after this dire warning: I needed to earn some money. The doctors urged me not to sign myself out, but I did. I was weak and underweight when I left the hospital, but I thanked the doctors and staff for their care: they had done the best that their limited resources had allowed them and I wasn't leaving feet first in a box.

    My treatment had been free. As a British citizen - and this still surprises many even now as it did some of the younger hospital staff at the time - I enjoyed the privilege of free emergency treatment in Russia. I think this was because of some post-WWII agreement made between the USSR and the socialist British government of the time and before the Cold War kicked off.

    The second time that I was in hospital was in 2002. I had married a Muscovite by then and was suffering pain from varicose veins. My wife's friend advised her to send me to a particular consultant at a particular hospital - a new one - in South Moscow. I had a consultation with him, I was admitted to the hospital, they did the surgery under local anaesthetic and five days later I was back home. No complaints from me whatsoever about the treatment that I received. I paid for that surgery and directly to the young surgeon. I can't remember how much now but it wasn't much.

    The third and last time that I had to be admitted to hospital was in 2008. That was after I had broken my left collar bone after having come flying off my mountain bike way out in the sticks near our dacha. I was admitted to the small hospital in the little township of Ruza near Mozhaisk. Visiting Ruza is like going back through a time warp to about 1950: pre-war Soviet houses - some still communal I should think -, many wooden buildings, statue of Lenin on the town square. The hospital, however, is new: it must have been built during the reign of the Evil One.

    The treatment was spot on. There were complications as I had broken the same bone before and the consultant orthopaedic surgeon and his colleagues were undecided for a while whether some surgery would be necessary. In the end, they set the fracture and fixed me up. I was there for a week and have no complaints about my treatment. I did not pay for anything during that last period of hospitalization because I have a full residency permit here, I pay my taxes here and I have national insurance.

    I should also like to add that all three of my children were born in Russian state hospitals: they are all fit and healthy and my wife also survived the ordeal of giving birth to them.

    If I should have need of going to hospital once more, and I sincerely hope that I shall not have to do so again, I would not hesitate from being admitted to a Russian state hospital. Perhaps I have just been fortunate in my Russian hospital experiences? That's what I am often told by colleagues, both foreign and Russian. I don't think so: not three times lucky.

    Has anyone else, I wonder, tales to tell about Russian medical treatment, be they praiseworthy or damning?
  2. AKarlin

    AKarlin Generalissimo Staff Member

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    I was at a Russian hospital once and survived the operation. That said, the surgeon was a friend of our family, so I can't generalize too much. Generally, I don't think the Russian healthcare system deserves all of the criticism it is subjected to. The doctors and nurses do accept bribes, but that's typically either (1) as a sign of thanks or (2) at most, to be moved to the front of the line - aka, a form of rationing, which is done by (formally) giving money in the US, and long queues in the NHS. If you don't give bribes, though, it's not like you're going to be thrown out onto the street - you'll just have to wait longer, and get poorer service/cheaper procedures. And that's in those cases where the doctors and nurses expect bribes: Yes, it's prevalent, but it doesn't describe the majority of cases (21% of Russians who had contact with the medical system said they paid a bribe, which is quite comparable with Poland - 15%, and Hungary - 26%).

    I broke the same humerus twice in the UK, once when falling off a bike, once when fighting getting beaten up. Fixing it was free (NHS) but second time it wasn't set properly, with the result that it was kind of bent for a decade afterwards until my muscles slowly forced it into straightness.

    When I was (am) in the US a year ago, I had a bad spate of panic attacks. I got myself into an emergency room during one of the first and most severe ones as I was worried it was some heart issue (this is not an uncommon assumption by people who start experiencing panic attacks). The bill for a 2 hours stay in the hospital, ECG, X-ray, and a few blood tests was a mind-blowing $3,500. (That far exceeds even the cost of pretty significant surgical operations in Russia, going by what I've heard from relatives). Of course I have insurance so I only paid $100, but still, it really demonstrates the absurd runaway costs of the US healthcare system.

    That said, the level of service at US hospitals is typically excellent. Getting into and successfully completing medical school is very difficult in the US - more difficult than in the UK, and surely a lot more difficult than in Russia (where regrettably it is even possible to buy a medical certificate). All but the brightest and most talented are weeded out. Meanwhile, my Russian relatives and acquaintances confirm - the equipment is getting modernized under the Evil One, but the cadres leave much to be desired. As such, all else being equal, I would prefer to be treated by an American doctor over a Russian one.
  3. Vostok

    Vostok Gubernial Secretary (12th class)

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    Been working in Moscow for seven years, lucky for me I have not had any bad problems with health. I have avoided State Hospitals, normally use the European Medical Center which has been quite good. My son was born at the Perinatal Medical Center (http://www.perinatalmedcenter.ru/), it was recommended to me by another expat and I can only speak positive things about it.
  4. AlexBond

    AlexBond Office Registrar (13th class)

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    A two year old overview of new medical centres being built in Russia.
    http://sdelanounas.ru/blogs/3293/

    The healthcare is indeed in a midst of technological modernization. If the cadres are improving as well, dunno.

    Personally I have the following observation: non-specialized ordinary non-private hospitals and polyclinics tend to be old, unimpressing and gloomy places, but able to provide moderately good and cheap healthcare. Private centres or state-sponsored highly specialized medical centres (cardiology, oncology, perinatal etc.) tend to have better equipment, new buildings and better services.
  5. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    I've just asked my wife how much it cost to have those varicose veins removed. She tells me that the surgeon charged $300 and for each day I was in hospital I was charged 1,000 rubles: I was there for 5 days and I was in a two-patient room, not on a ward.

    I often say that I have never paid a bribe in Russia and I certainly don't consider that approximately $450 that I paid in total for my treatment in a state hospital as a bribe. If I had waited for surgery after having had a consultation at my local polyclinic, I still would would have been treated and free of charge at that, but I didn't want to wait for a bed. Anyway, I reckon I got a bargain. He did both legs as well.
  6. mls13

    mls13 Collegiate Registrar (14th class)

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    I had an incident as a student in Moscow back in early 1998 or so. Ingrown toenail. Nothing life-threatening of course, but it hurt like hell. So I went to the "Western" clinic near Mayakovskaya. Went in on the ground floor, waited in line, explained my problem and provided all of my documents to the receptionist, who wrote-up a file. After about a half hour, I was told to go to podiatry on the third floor, and that they'd send up the documentation. Fine. I went to third floor and waited another half hour before being called by the receptionist at podiatry. Their first question was: "where's your documentation?"

    Well, I was told it would be sent up... "no no no. We can't do anything without the file."

    So I went back down to the first floor to figure out what happened. After waiting in line another half an hour, I found that they hadn't sent it up. Ooops.
    Went back to third floor. Waited another half an hour. Finally got called. No file. Repeat process again. Waste another full hour. Finally confirmed that third-floor had the documents and would pass them along to the doctor once my name was called.

    So, after three hours of walking between the first and third floors, I was finally called back to see the podiatrist. I was shocked that--in what was considered to be one of the top medical establishments in the country--both the podiatrist and his nurse were smoking in the office(!) They were nice enough to offer me a smoke before asking why was there. I explained that I had an ingrown toenail, yada yada yada. "Okay--but where are your documents?" I retold my entire story, and that the people down the hall were supposed to convey them to the doctor. "Well, we can't do anything without your documents. You'll have to go down to first floor..."

    I snapped. I let loose with a stream of obscenities--or at least the only Russian obscenities I knew at the time. Then I hobbled toward home. At Belorussky vokzal, I bought a cheap Chinese knockoff Swiss-Army knife, a cheap Chinese knockoff butterfly knife, and a half-liter of vodka. I went back to my dorm, downed the vodka and essentially ripped out half of my own big toenail. Admittedly, not a very smart idea. I remember there being a LOT of blood. I ran out of toilet paper to mop it up--so I had to hobble down the hall, drunk, pissed off, with a bloody stump of a toe, to see if any of my neighbors in the dorm (all Russian--I was the only American there) could spot me some toilet paper or paper towels or, dammit, ANYTHING. Getting the TP wasn't too bad... but remember this was early '98, and EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. ROOM was blaring that goddamn Celine Dion theme from Titanic... constantly. On repeat. All day.

    Say what you will, but I haven't had any problems with that toe since my little self-operation. But all it takes now is simply a mention of that goddamn song to send me into an absolute fury.
  7. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    That brings back memories of my time as a student in Voronezh, 1988-1989. Happy days but for the seemingly endless playing of that Brazilian Lambada tune, which is a pleasant enough one, I have to admit - but all the damned time? I had arrived in the Soviet Union after having studied the previous academic year in Germany, where I also spent all of my vacation time. For some reason or other I had never heard Lambada either in Germany or the UK, but I'm not a popular music fan at the best of times and I was quite reclusive in those days. Having arrived in the Evil empire, though, I heard nothing else: it seemed to be piped everywhere in Voronezh and there was also a roaring trade there in giving Lambada dancing lessons. As regards the accessibility of toilet paper at that time, it was "deficit" - as was most everything else.

    Mention of the incompetent service experienced at a private Moscow clinic brought to mind the tale of a Russian woman whom I worked with in 1998. She was an economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and had worn glasses since childhood. She was only in her early 30s and she told me that a few years previously she had become so worried about the deterioration in her eyesight that she had decided to visit a German clinic in order to have a consultation with an ophthalmologist there. The consultant told her that unless she soon underwent ophthalmic surgery, she would become blind. Needless to say, the cost of the surgery was enormous. She visited a Russian clinic in order to receive a second opinion. There they gave her better glasses. She didn't become blind.
  8. SWSpires

    SWSpires Gubernial Secretary (12th class)

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    I've had both positive and negative experiences in Russian hospitals. Brief rundown:

    In 2007, I was mis-diagnosed as "possibly" having had a heart attack, by a doctor in a foreign-run clinic favored by many expats in Russia. They insisted on keeping me overnight, even though I was quite sure their diagnosis was wrong.

    In 2009, I was treated for back pain in a different clinic. No complaints.

    In 2010 (a bad health year for me), I was treated for shingles in a private clinic our company used. No complaints.

    In 2010, however, I also had my very worst experience, in a government-connected, supposedly high-prestige hospital. I was battling prostatitis (actually chronic pelvic pain, which is not necessarily connected to the prostate). I won't go into the gruesome details, but the urologist there caused me a ton of unnecessary pain and bother, and mis-diagnosed my condition completely. He suggested a course of treatment. I walked right out of there, never came back, and cured the condition myself.

    In 2012, I consulted a dentist due to some molar pain. She suggested root canal. I said I would watch the condition and see if it got better. It did, and I'm glad I didn't undergo the root canal.

    A side observation. Every time my own diagnosis of a condition has clashed with the doctor's, I'm the one who turned out to be right! I put this down to 1) knowing one's one organism and case history, and 2) the vast wealth of medical knowledge available over the Internet. I now trust Dr. Internet more than any real doctor!
  9. AKarlin

    AKarlin Generalissimo Staff Member

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    The latest in the Annals of American Healthcare - an endoscopy costs $4,570. Yes, I tallied up all the separate bills to the penny, out of curiosity. (I will have to pay $500 of that, or maybe $900 if one of my claims to the insurance company fails to go through).

    I very much doubt an endoscopy costs more $500 in total in Russia.
  10. MarkPavelovich

    MarkPavelovich Commissar

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    My wife had laser eye surgery in Russia, about a year before she left. If memory serves me correctly, we paid about $600.00 for both eyes. The average price for Lasik here is about $2000.00.

    http://www.allaboutvision.com/visionsurgery/cost.htm#average

    There were no complications and her vision was 100% corrected. The hospital itself was very run-down, with bare patches in the hall where the lino had been worn away so that the plywood subfloor was showing through, but the doctors seemed extremely skilled and proud of their work. We paid "bribes" regularly for every service we received, which were usually confined to a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, always after the service, and I was taught that it was only good manners. I learned a lot about manners and courtesy in Russia, and I believe I am a better man for the experience. A little "bribing" here if it were no more harmful than that would doubtless not come amiss.
  11. gbordakov

    gbordakov Office Registrar (13th class)

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    I had several experiences.
    One is mine own in 1997 with head trauma which was caused by robbery. I spent about two weeks in a room of about 10 people half of which were robbery victims like me. No consequences so far except tooth crown however there was a danger of loosing eyesight of right eye. Did not pay anything, no doctor asked about money. Perhaps at discharge I brought some gifts, do not remember.
    Another is my 75 year old mother's with pancreatitis several years ago. It took about couple of 2 weeks rounds her spending in a hospital until they finally diagnosed her and performed a surgery which was successful only at the second time. My wife had to spent about 2 months living with my mother. We have kept mother in private room and paid for everything officially to get best specialists and get ahead in the queue. It was about $3000 for everything including surgeries, hospital, medications, ...
    Generally I would say Russian medicine looks run-down but is effective, if you find good doctor. The later may be not that easy. I witnessed myself USSR medical students education in 1985 being research assistant in a medical school and found student's attitude too lazy and teachers too forgiving.
  12. Carlo

    Carlo Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Not exactly a hospital experience, but in 2011 I went with my wife and her siblings to Russia as tourists, in Moscow we stayed in the huge Izmailovo hotel complex (in Gamma tower, to be more exact), and my sister in law soon after arriving developed conjunctivitis. We learned that the hotel had a medical service, I called it (being the only one who speaks some Russian) and a doctor was soon sent to her room. Very good service, with absolutely no expenses on our part (except the medicine we had to buy). The only thing was that the doctor spoke no English, so I had to serve (as almost anywhere in Moscow) as a translator. If anyone plans to visit Moscow, I highly recommend this hotel.

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