American Medical Centers Georgia (AMC) opened in Tbilisi’s Vake neighborhood in 2016, combining the latest in Western medicine practices with highly educated and qualified local physicians.
Caucasus Business Week spoke with AMC Group president Alex Sokol about medical care in Georgia and what AMC brings to the Georgian healthcare market.
– American Medical Centers decided to enter the Georgian market after operating for several years in the Eastern European countries. What was the main reason behind your decision to invest in Georgia?
– We see Georgia as a tremendous opportunity for concierge and boutique health services, bringing a wholly unique patient-driven model to the city. We have been interested in Tbilisi for some time and so the decision was quite natural. With its highly educated and talented medical professionals, physicians and specialists, competent ancillary or referral facilities, and a respectable business climate, we felt it was time to invest and expand the model. So just over a year ago with encouragement from the city, the diplomatic corps, and the community, we decided on a staged investment for two facilities in Georgia, with the first commissioned in Vake, Tbilisi,March2016.
– What is the main difference between AMC and other medical facilities in Georgia and what are the new standards that AMC brings to the Georgian healthcare market?
– I would say, quite simply, the biggest differential is our team. We have been very fortunate with our clinical staff here in Tbilisi and in Batumi, bringing together an outstanding group working toward the absolute best patient experience.
As an American healthcare network,with our seventh group clinic opening this summer,we are able to leverage important group resources, not only with management and capital, but also established clinical guidelines and protocols, quality assurance standards, and our insurance and affiliate hospital relationships.
We work with over 40 global Insurance providers on a preferred direct billing basis (a cashless service) and are certified as an official affiliate clinic of New York Presbyterian’s Executive Registry program, allowing our local physicians to refer for elective procedures or second-opinions.We invest in and encourage regular continuing medical education(CME) and workshops abroad. And we work hard to provide a convenient and responsible service for our patients. But the most important AMC differential we feel is the integrity, experience, accountability, and genuine care and compassion of our professionals, the difference in our care providers.
– What are the steps that Georgia shall make to improve the medical services available to its citizens?
– My sense that Georgia’s greatest challenge continues to be the delivery of high quality care in a cost effective way. While Tbilisi should provide gold standard secondary care in specialised units, it also needs to develop a “gate-keeper” approachor access to specialty care through an increasingly competent primary care or family medicine service. This follows that specialised resources, diagnostics, imaging, and procedures are used in a more cost effective way benefiting government and citizens. Georgia has vast rural areas and we believe that promotion and funding of quality primary care can positively impact the lower-density populations. So primary care promotion, CME training, hospital collaboration, standardized accreditation, anddeveloping a truly competitive patient-driven market will greatly benefit and improve Georgia’s health system.
– What are the biggest lessons Georgian medical professionals and medical clinics can learn from their counterparts in the US and the EU?
– Transposing US or EU healthcare models is not necessarily the most effective way to improve standards. In fact, US or European systems are sometimes wasteful, costly, and may be ineffective in tackling public health issues such as obesity and poor diet.
Georgian healthcare professionals and managers may seek to concentrate on simple cost effective interventions that deliver benefits across the whole population. Medical Insurance for instance is also not always the most effective way to finance health care. In times of economic growth it works well but still excludes many poorer patients or those with mental health problems or learning difficulties. Eventually premiums are driven upward and as rates are negotiated between insurer and provider, the patient is often left on the sidelines, without provider choice and most probably without proper care.
I would agree with what many Government officials have talked about in the last year or two and is in fact our AMC model:encouraging broader access to primary healthcare will help reduce unnecessary spending. The majority of Georgians visit specialists rather than general practitioners, even for routine care. Experts generally concur that enhancing primary healthcare would allow the government to limit the high cost of hospital-based treatment and increase disease prevention with early diagnoses.
– How would you assess Georgia’s potential as a medical tourism destination? What reforms need to be implemented to make it more competitive as a medical tourism destination?
– Medical Tourism in Georgia is gaining popularity and Georgian healthcare has the substructure to expand medical tourism with its affordability, availability, and increasingly, quality care. So I think there is tremendous potential, specifically in elective narrow specialties such as infertility treatment, surrogacy, dental, or aesthetic surgery.Steps would include regional marketing withgreater government sponsorship and promotion in targeted European markets. Government’s full collaboration with the private sector,combined with the rich natural beauty of thisgreat country, its central geographic location, and a current and historical spa and wellness culturemake Georgia an ideal destination for medical tourism.
– AMC Georgia plans to expand and establish it’s facility in Batumi. Why Batumi is interesting for you and what services will you provide to locals and tourists in Batumi?
– We remain very optimistic about Batumi and the Adjara region, both as an event, leisure, and business destination and in its increasing importance for Georgia. We feel disposable healthcare spending will continue to grow as the market develops and healthcare infrastructure becomes more sophisticated.
AMC Batumi, our fifth clinic in the region, is a 24-7 concierge driven clinic facility, offering family practice, pediatrics, gynecology, and emergency or acute care to the entire community. The clinic offers over a dozen specialists that are available in-clinic or by house-call. Additionally, we are able to work with most international (and increasingly national) insurance groups on a direct billing basis, making the visit to the doctor hopefully a bit easier for the patient!