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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doctor Seeks Cure in the Written Word

There are two goals of medicine, says Maxim Ossipov. One is to cure people, and the other is to give them the illusion that they can be cured.


As far as illusions go, the Russian medical system is on track, says the cardiologist turned medical publisher. "But as far as real help is concerned, there is not much there."


One of the reasons for this, said Ossipov, is a dearth of medical information. There may be a host of problems plaguing the Russian medical system -- chief among which is financial -- but the shortage of literature is not the least of these.


"Problems concerning medication can be solved quickly," said Ossipov, referring to the increase in imported medications available on the Russian market. "But the problem of medical knowledge is not solved that fast."


With this in mind, Ossipov gave up a promising career in cardiology two years ago to found Praktika, a Russian publishing house that specializes in medical manuals.


Ossipov's introduction to the publishing world began when he worked as a research fellow for a year at the University of California. The study led to the 1992 publication of his first book on clinical echocardiology.


"I miss practicing medicine," said Ossipov, who is an associate professor at Moscow's Academy of Postgraduate Medical Education. "But I love working with words. It is very spiritual."


Ossipov's first goal after founding Praktika was to find material to be translated into Russian.


"In Russia, the culture of writing texts does not exist," he said, adding that, with a few exceptions, there is little major research going on that is worthy of publication. "Medical knowledge is in a terrible condition."


So Ossipov set his sights on the West, finding an agent in the United States to negotiate the rights to translate U.S. texts into Russian.


Since 1994, Praktika has published seven medical reference books on everything from cardiology to psychiatry. The company even published one home reference book on child care.


However, Ossipov said, there is already a lot of competition for books geared toward the layperson. "We won't be doing more of these," he said. "The book was not very successful." Instead, Praktika will concentrate on the medical profession directly.


By far Praktika's most successful book is the Washington University Manual of Medical Therapeutics, an 800-page tome that covers everything from high blood pressure to syphilis, rheumatic fever to kidney dialysis.


"This is the only book we published in 1995," said Ossipov, holding up Praktika's biggest money-maker to date. The publishing house has sold 35,000 copies to doctors all over the country, and they are already on their third print run to respond to incoming orders.


After a recent business trip, Ossipov returned to find a 6-inch stack of letters waiting for him on his desk. "This is after only two days," said Ossipov. "Doctors write in from all over Russia."


To avoid wholesale distribution problems, Praktika markets its texts directly to doctors. Aside from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they have agreements with major book stores, most of their customers order by mail.


In 1996, Praktika plans to publish books on a wide range of specialties, including endocrinology, obstetrics, pediatrics, and modern cardiology. They hope to publish 10 new volumes this year, but, as Ossipov says, it is often difficult to plan ahead.


"You need time to make something really good," said Ossipov.


Besides, Ossipov is not worried about the competition. "We compete with ourselves and the texts we edit -- I don't want to have to think about what our competitors are doing." he said. "It's like playing poker. Either you think about the other guy and what he has or you think about your own strategy and let him worry about you."