Need a hip replacement? Got some bitcoins burning a hole in your wallet? Well, why not hop on a plane to Lithuania, where a local orthopaedic clinic has recently announced it will provide treatments in exchange for bitcoin.
Nordorthopaedics, an orthopaedic surgery in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital city, began accepting bitcoin payments earlier this month. However, it hasn't yet received a client willing to pay with the currency.
The clinic employs 50 medical staff, including five surgeons. It serves a largely foreign clientele, with customers from Sweden, Russia, the UK and the US. Jekaterina Kirpa, a spokesperson for the clinic, said:
"Transactions in bitcoin are sent easily via the Internet, and there is no need to rely on any third party. Also, there are little to no transaction fees."
The clinic offers various different medical procedures. These range from open surgeries (like knee, hip and shoulder replacements) to arthroscopic surgeries (including Achilles tendon repairs).
According to Kirpa, many customers make the journey to Vilnius because the clinic charges lower fees than the facilities in their home country.
"The cost of the procedure may be two or three times lower," Kirpa said. However, she cited that the cost savings for the customer would vary depending on the procedure.
"Actually, our surgeons have more experience than many other doctors in Western clinics," she added.
A knee replacement in the UK conducted through the NHS (National Health Service) requires an average wait of 39 weeks, while private treatment will set you back nearly £4,000 ($6,540).
In the US, the same procedure will amount to a whopping $35,000, although the final cost to the patient could be significantly less, depending on his or her health insurance plan.
More than half of Nordorthopaedics' patients are foreign visitors, Kirpa said.
The clinic is part of a larger trend for 'medical tourism', where patients seek treatment in locations overseas that offer cheaper procedures than their home countries.
In Lithuania, a government-supported lobby group has been set up to promote medical tourism, with an emphasis on cosmetic surgery, heart surgery and dentistry.
In this context, it makes sense for healthcare providers to accept payments in bitcoin. The cryptocurrency is easily transferred and incurs minimal to no transaction fees.
Finally, for users hoping to save extra money – will Nordorthopaedics offer a bitcoin discount for that niggling rotator cuff injury?
"Currently we don't provide a discount for customers paying in bitcoin," Kirpa said.