London Clinic Performs Hair Transplants For Bitcoin

Joon Ian Wong
Jan 3, 2014 at 17:36 UTC
Updated Jan 3, 2014 at 18:09 UTC

A London clinic has completed a hair transplant paid for in bitcoin. Vinci Hair Clinic, located in London’s medical treatments hub Harley Street, said it completed the hair transplant on 18th Dec for the price of 11.538461 BTC.

The clinic said its hair transplant patient was a 32-year-old man from the Middle East who wanted to remain anonymous. The patient paid the clinic in bitcoin, which was worth $6,000 at the time, which the clinic immediately converted to GBP.

“We started to take bitcoin seriously in November when we got inundated with requests to pay in bitcoins,” said Vinci managing director Salvar Bjornsson in a press release.

International payment problems

Vinci’s customers were clamouring to pay in bitcoin in November, when the price of the digital currency spiked relative to fiat currencies. But customer demand wasn’t the only reason for the hair clinic to adopt the digital currency. According to Ken Fryer, a spokesman for the clinic, accepting bitcoin payments from customers solved some major headaches surrounding international transactions:

“We have had customers who faced problems with fund transfers due to currency and banking restrictions. We have had to cancel surgeries because clients were not able to transfer funds to the UK in time.”

Vinci operates clinics in London, Spain, Dubai and Brazil. About a third of customers at its London clinic travel for treatment from outside the UK. In Spain and Dubai, the figure is larger, with about half the customers at those clinics travelling across borders for procedures. All Vinci clinics now accept bitcoin as a form of payment.

“We are hoping that bitcoin can help us solve this problem at our clinics worldwide,” Fryer said.

Before the scalp pigmentation procedure

Before the scalp pigmentation procedure

The hair restoration business

Vinci is part of a global industry for hair restoration procedures worth $1.9bn last year, according to Fryer. The clinic’s most popular procedure is the hair transplant, where hair is surgically moved from the back of a patient’s head, where it’s abundant, to the front, where it’s thinning. The procedure costs anything from £4,000 to £12,000, depending on the size of the area that’s being transplanted.

According to Fryer, the trickiest part of getting a hair transplant right isn’t the surgery itself. Instead, it’s making sure patients have a clear idea of the procedure’s outcome:

“Getting the patient to have a realistic expectation of the whole procedure is equally important.”

A less costly procedure that’s growing in popularity is scalp pigmentation, Fryer said. The goal of scalp pigmentation is to help a patient achieve the look of an extremely closely shaved hairstyle. Vinci uses technicians, who are supervised by doctors, to tattoo the patient’s scalp to create the effect of closely cropped hair. Scalp pigmentation costs £2,500 on average at Vinci.

After the scalp pigmentation procedure

After the scalp pigmentation procedure

Vinci was established in 2006 with clinics in London and Malaga in Spain. The privately held firm currently employs eight doctors and 120 people in total, according to Fryer.

However, a cursory Google search by CoinDesk revealed several negative reviews for Vinci’s treatments on hair loss forums. When asked about the reviews, Bjornsson claimed they were written by “one person” and said the clinic is taking legal action to have the reviews removed. Bjornsson wrote in an email, referring to the reviews:

“Anyone with half a brain will se (sic) through this.”

Medical tourism

Customers jetting around the world for medical procedures – cosmetic or otherwise – drive the global medical tourism industry. In the UK, medical tourism has been estimated to be worth £42m to hospitals in 2010 and £219m to the wider economy, including hotels, restaurants, shopping and transport, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and York University.

Clinics focused on medical tourism are keen to adopt bitcoin because it is easily transferred. For example, CoinDesk reported on Nordorthopaedics, a Lithuanian clinic focused on international patients, that started accepting bitcoin payments in December because funds could be transferred quickly and with minimal fees.

For clinics with significant amounts of international customers, like Vinci and Nordorthopaedics, bitcoin payments make sense. As Vinci’s Bjornsson noted:

“We currently receive payments in over 10 different currencies so adding another [one] is no problem.”

Images via Ken Fryer / Vinci Hair Clinic