Interview with Dr Anastasios Vekris, CEO and Co-Founder, Cosmetic Derma Medicine, Medical Group

Dr Anastasios Vekris (AV): So, as I was saying I visited London 10 days ago as an invited speaker for a Hair Restoration Congress and following this I was invited to Malaga in Spain for the Europe FUE Annual Meeting (again as a guest speaker) and next month I will visit Lisbon, Portugal as part of the faculty the World FUE Institute Workshop. So, I am quite busy, not just with everyday work of hair restoration, but also in training both in the premises of our clinics here in Greece as well as guest speaker or lecturer or trainer in international events like workshops, congresses etc.

BF: What you are doing is cutting edge, world-leading and innovating. Can you take us through some of the innovations that you have lead the way on?

AV: I can start with hair restoration. It is the most popular aesthetic procedure by far and can be considered an industry in its own right because it is constantly rising in popularity and the procedures performed globally have increased by 20-25% annually. It is gaining in popularity (not only in the developed countries such as in Europe or Northern America) but across Asia, Latin America and Africa. The truth is that in the last decade there have been many innovations in the field both in the technical part of hair restoration that has led to better, more efficient and less invasive procedures like the FUE procedure that we currently use in our clinics.

If I may say, I did contribute personally to this progress through my course in hair restoration for the last 12 years as I was one of the first worldwide to apply FUE hair restoration procedure which means that we initiated doing the hair transplants not by the old technique (the FUT) that would take the strips from the back of our head from the donor area but instead to take single hair follicles, one by one, from across the potential donor site and plant them in the recipient area without making any linear scars or causing any major trauma. Over the years, the technique has improved in quality and results.

BF: So it is a more natural look and is less painful…

AV: It is less painful and less invasive. It has the big advantage of producing a natural end result within a few months and at the same time reducing the down time of the operation itself to no more than 24-48 hours. This is the biggest advantage of this technique it made it possible for all of these people that we deal with on a daily basis in our clinics that visit us and not just from Greece but all over the world. I believe that this is our strong point because we estimate that approximately half of our patients (50%) are Greek patients from various parts of Greece and the other 50% come from various countries around the world. Not just European countries such as the big markets from the UK, France, Germany or Italy but also quite commonly people from the Middle East and surprisingly enough even from far-off countries like India, Australia, Canada, the USA, Brazil or Panama.

People from all of the countries that I am talking about even such as South Africa have visited us and constantly receive our treatment. So, gradually over the years this is what made us quite well known, not on a national level, but also internationally. In addition to this, I would say that as a side effect of the crisis the southern part of Europe and especially Greece (while suffering a lot from the depression) also gave birth to new opportunities. The new opportunity being that we could offer high quality services with well trained medical staff, multilingual staff (many Greeks speak English, German, Russian, French and other languages) while at the same time we can offer very competitive prices for northern or central European standards. There are of course cheaper markets such as countries in Asia or Turkey that are very strong in medical tourism but Greece has one of the highest qualities and standards in the medical profession, in medical skills, in medical education while at the same time it combines competitive pricing of our services. Our goal is to make this an opportunity to combine the procedure itself of hair restoration with staying in Athens or another location in Greece or Cyprus with the nice weather and the nice environment… this is what makes our service quite competitive and quite popular to Europeans and people from other countries as well.

BF: You mentioned that your main markets are still bound to Europe and the UK was the first that you mention. Was that because we are from the UK or because the UK is your biggest international market?

AV: The UK and Germany are the economic centre of Europe while at the same time London especially has a high proportion of what we call trendy people. The difference being that the people in the UK especially in the London metropolitan area do care a lot about their looks and all kinds of aesthetic procedures are popular in men and women alike. I am a big fan of London as I have worked there for quite a few years and I spent more than 3 years (half of the month being in London and working there on hair restoration and half here in Greece or in the Middle East). I am registered with the Specialist Registry of the Aegean Sea as a plastic surgeon and the only thing that keeps me from opening an office in London at the moment is that I have very limited personal time. We have over 15 medical teams that do this job as we perform 10-12 sessions on a daily basis at our main centre here in Athens and our other locations in Greece and Cyprus. However, it is in our future plans within the next couple of years to establish a branch in London and we would be very happy to do so.

BF: Can you expand more on your future plans and how you are planning to increase your operations here and what kind of steps will be taken for London to be a potential partner or investor. What do the next couple of years look like for CDM?

AV: It is true that one of the main ways that we work is to focus on expansion. We are not only establishing our own clinics in Greek locations or Cyprus – we plan to open other clinics in Greece and in Europe such as in the UK, Germany and probably Switzerland and Italy. At the same time we currently have very fruitful relationships with reputable partners that operate as local agents in certain European countries (I will refer to Italy, for example, which has our biggest partnership network). In addition, we have partners in Denmark that provide us with patients and also in Norway, Turkey, Albania and Austria that we are operating with. One way of expansion is that we could have local people that are active in the field of tourism or medicine (medical tourism in particular) acting as our local agents or as our consultation offices and refer patients to us. Through the wide use of the modern digital marketing ways like the social media namely Facebook and Instagram as well as our good presence in Google, we will be able to ramp up our presence considerably. We are also doing this through this interview for your respected newspaper.

BF: When we look at the locations on offer such as Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Spain which are strong competitors to Greece…Why is it that Greece do you think has the best reasons, the best advantages which attract the UK readers as opposed to your competitors?

AV: With the greatest of respect to our peers in Turkey, I would like to compare the services offered in Greece to other European countries as we all follow the same rules as part of the Common Market. Surprisingly enough, maybe 95% of regulation and legislation that is involved in medical procedures is commonly-held between European countries including the UK so you would find very little difference in the things that are regulated on a daily basis in this clinic that stands in Athens in comparison to a clinic standing in London. We have the highest ratio of doctors to population in Europe, more than double the next country. In the last few years, due to the crisis, we have exported (mostly central and north European countries such as Scandinavian countries, Germany and the UK) more than 20,000 doctors, medical professionals. A direct result is that the level of medicine in Greece is quite high as it stands, and not just because Greece is the birth country of Hippocrates (NB: UK English spelling) and other ancient doctors that set the foundations of modern medicine. More pertinently, as we speak there are a lot of good standing clinics and good standing individual doctors in all kinds of medical specialties that actually do a very good job. Things are regulated properly as they should be not only in aesthetic and cosmetic procedures but across all medical procedures as well.

BF: Medical tourism cannot be taken in isolation, not only talking about the procedures here but also talking about the idea of wellness in tourism and a lot of operators in the market have been trying to offer packages. What is your approach to that?

AV: We had to adapt to this concept and I find it quite reasonable. People visiting from other countries and not just the UK, because people from the UK have the advantage of speaking the English language which is very commonly spoken in Greece and it is easy to get around. However, we have dealt with people coming from countries that cannot communicate as easily, such as Italy where only a few people speak Italian here in Greece.

In this case, and others, we had to make them feel comfortable and safe and we started making combined packages where we offer them a transfer from and into the airport and we offer them accommodation. Why? Because we are talking about medical procedures and it would be safer for them to be near to the clinic’s premises in order to do their pre-operative care and post-operative check-up near to their accommodation. Nowadays what we offer is a fully inclusive package of transport, accommodation and medical treatment.

At the moment we are strictly medically orientated and so we are not in the field of wellness and spa treatments etc. This is because the procedures that we offer here are not only in hair restoration, but across aesthetic surgery, in aesthetically dermatology and in laser treatments, etc., which is all conducted by medical staff. At the same time we can give you recommendations for just about everything from food, leisure activities, sightseeing, wellness and spas.

Hair restoration is the part of our business that made us known to the international public. However, one of our equally strong points across our network, is that we have good locations in popular locations and cities in Greece and Cyprus that are able to attract not just the medical tourists themselves but also the regular tourists.

The latter are visiting our cities and islands throughout the season and we offer them minor procedures and minor aesthetic treatments like laser therapies, injectables and all kinds of regular aesthetic treatments. These could of course be provided in the UK for example, but it’s easier to enjoy it whilst on holiday in Athens, Rhodes, Thessaloniki or Crete.

Therefore, it is true that while other clinics limit their services or are not operational in July or August we are here 6 days a week, everyday in July and August offering our services not just to the Greek public but also to the incoming tourists in Athens. Outside the high summer season, Athens is rapidly becoming one of the hottest destinations for a European city break and this is something that we want to take advantage of and cater to the needs of those new visitors.

BF: Do you have a particular driving philosophy that pushes you and your colleagues to always look to innovate and maintain state of the art practices and procedures to always improve what you are offering?

AV: It is a common truth that in medicine whether you are working on your own such as in a classic medical practice or whether you have built quite an extended and larger group of medical services – you need to constantly try and improve yourself. I’m talking in terms of technology, knowledge exchanges with other countries and if this does not happen you cannot stay at the top for a long time. In order to have a good long standing medical business you need to be first in innovation, in the appliance of all modern technologies and be a leader in the market because there is strong competition both nationally and internationally. Nowadays, there are no borders in medical procedures much like there are no border in finance and business.

BF: We would like to know more about your other procedures beyond hair. Where is that going, where the strengths are and what your competitive advantages are in some of those other procedures as well?

AV: There is a general tendency worldwide towards minimally invasive procedures in aesthetic medicine in general. Although I am a plastic surgeon – I can honestly tell you that the percentage of medium to severe plastic surgery procedures is diminishing by the year. At the same time there has been a huge increase in the demand and application of less invasive or minimally invasive procedures. The current trends are mainly in the local applications of combined laser policies and local liposuction procedures for the buttocks. Then there is the culture of lifting threads that provide very good results without having to undergo a proper surgical face lift and they can be applied both in the face, neck and other parts of the body. These are performed on an outpatient basis, non-invasively and quite painless. Then we have all kinds of laser applications with modern devices that provide solutions in facial rejuvenation and also in body contouring without the need to undergo major plastic surgery procedures in the majority of cases. Our efforts and our training in this field is towards the application and the development of these techniques in our clinics.

BF: This is something that is going to increase in time it seems… for people on a daily basis to get injectable treatments like Botox, etc.

AV: It is increasing every year. If it becomes easy and less painful for the average patient and more affordable at the same time, it will become ever more popular once people understand that. People are also more open nowadays compared to a few years ago. Something people are unaware of is that there is a growing need for those working in the private sector, especially those working internationally, to compete on a global level with people that may look nicer and younger and this is the line of competition that we deal with. This is because our image affects how we approach other people either on a social or a professional level and vice versa and so this is all becoming quite demanding. People want to look fresh and young and be able to compete on an equal level from a better position in comparison with the next guy.

BF: Do you have any final comments that you want to make or a message that you want to send out or an impression that you want to give out?

AV: I would like to repeat that our services stand at the highest level in Europe and worldwide. People from the UK would benefit if they visited Athens or our other locations for treatment. It enables them to get a high quality treatment and combine it with a holiday in a beautiful location here in Greece. I want to put this on the record, on a professional level we are not just another clinic doing hair restoration or aesthetic treatments.

We are pioneers in hair restoration. Not only are we known worldwide for our achievements and our growth (as we are invited to give lectures or train in various congresses and workshops) but also the clinic where we meet today is serving as a training centre for doctors from countries all over the world. Those doctors come here to train and work on hair restoration, either as beginners entering the specialism, or to looking to raise their skill-level.

Take for example the following. This spring we have had a team of doctors from the Ukraine that came to our clinic to start training in hair restoration so they can set up their own clinic in the Ukraine where these kinds of services are still very limited. Over the years we have trained people from the Middle East such as Israel and Palestine, to European nations like Italy, Albania and Austria to as far afield as Costa Rica and the United States. Amazingly enough, all of these people travelled from their faraway countries to come to Greece, to our clinics, in order to train as they had heard about us and had seen our results.

For more information, visit the Advanced Hair Clinics webiste