“Many can’t wait for dates they get months later”

The coronavirus pandemic, which also appeared in Hungary in the spring of 2020, posed an unprecedented situation in Hungary. Because of the public health struggle against covid there was also an extra burden on private care, in addition, they had to set up in a short time to perform tasks for which they were not previously prepared. Representatives of two major Hungarian players, SYNLAB, which performs laboratory diagnostic tests, and Affidea, a Hungarian leader in imaging diagnostics, spoke about the changes that the epidemic has brought to the private sector.

“Healthcare is no longer free”

As early as two years ago, SYNLAB, as a state-designated laboratory, began performing PCR testing for coronavirus. Because the company has previously had experience with such tests due to HPV testing, the technology was also available. According to Tamás Póda, the commercial director of SYNLAB Hungary Kft., Due to the unprecedented mass testing demand, the entire operation of the company had to be transformed. “We had to reorganize the entire laboratory operation, it also required a significant acquisition of equipment to increase the number of tests that could be performed. As we are part of a large, international organization, asset acquisitions were a minor problem for us, ”Tamás Póda recalled.

The reorganization of workers’ jobs was all the more challenging, more shift shifts were introduced, more colleagues had to move from the countryside, there were those who had to set up accommodation in the laboratories. The call center has switched entirely to working from home, which the commercial director says will likely remain so in the future. According to him, one of the big changes in the epidemic – like many other jobs – in private health may be the advancement of working from home. Of course, the laboratory work cannot be done at home, but those working in many positions have permanently set up their “office” in their apartment or house. All this should not detract from the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, but these changed circumstances may have given new impetus to the already dynamic development of telemedicine.

Due to the epidemic, more and more people are turning to private care. Photo: Getty Images

The epidemic has also significantly transformed consumer habits, the effects of which are likely to be felt for a long time, Póda emphasized. The strain on the public care system and the endless waiting lists people who had never left the publicly funded care system before were also referred to private care. For many of them, before the epidemic, it was inconceivable to even visit a private institution for a consultation, and now they use several other services. Due to the positive experience, a higher proportion of these clients may apply for various screening tests and preventive screening packages in the future. “The epidemic can bring a kind of change in attitudes in the long run, many people have recently realized that health care is not free and everyone has to sacrifice time, energy and money to stay healthy. The number of customers does not fall as the epidemic recedes, only the content of the shopping cart changes: as the number of PCR tests decreases, so does the proportion of those interested in different filter packages. Patients appear to be placing much greater confidence in private health care now than before the epidemic. We hope that this will continue to be the case in the future, ”he added.

From screening managers to caring for serious patients

The pandemic has brought several changes to Affidea, Hungary’s largest imaging diagnostic service provider. Several investments have been made to strengthen digitalisation since the outbreak. For safer administration, their patients were provided with telephone and online consultations, and the telemedicine previously used was replaced by a more advanced, video-based service that was included in the routine ordering system. In most follow-up examinations, the findings are typically discussed with the patient by the physician, and experience has shown that they are excellent online. In this case, the fact that the doctor and patient do not meet in person – emphasized Dr. Orsolya Menyhárt, Medical Director of Affidea Hungary’s outpatient specialist care.

He added that such digital solutions are likely to continue to be built in the post-epidemic period as they provide safer, faster and more convenient patient care. For some medical professions, teleconsultation works particularly well, such as psychological and psychiatric or even dermatological prescriptions. It is mainly those control examinations that can be migrated to virtual space in the future, during which the actual physical examination is less frequent, the doctor prefers to talk to patients. In this way, in addition, the distance can be overcome, so the supply can be provided in those settlements far from the big cities, where it would be unthinkable with a personal presence.

Incidentally, the number of patients in the waiting rooms of the institutions was also limited, especially during the third wave of most illnesses. The number of chairs was reduced and only every second seat could be occupied by those entering the study. It is questionable whether, after the restrictions have been relaxed, the waiting areas will be re-filled, this is because patients are clearly open to digital consultation and administration The medical director emphasized. Of the safety measures previously introduced, mandatory mask wearing has been maintained and is not planned to change until at least the end of May.

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In many cases, doctor-patient consultation may be limited to online space in the future.  Photo: Getty Images

In many cases, doctor-patient consultation may be limited to online space in the future. Photo: Getty Images

According to Orsolya Menyhárt, the pandemic also redirected a lot of people to the private sector who had never been to private clinics before. For this reason, over the past year and a half, Affidia has also been increasingly visited by groups of patients who were previously primarily in public care. “As the pandemic subsides, reopening public health huge waiting lists welcome patients, many can’t wait for dates they get months to years later, so they turn to private care. At the same time, a higher proportion of them are coming to us for tests that would not have to be expected in public care anyway, ”confirmed Affidea’s medical director at Affinea.

The profile of private care is also undergoing a fundamental transformation, which has been significantly accelerated by the pandemic, according to the expert. Whereas in the past the private sector was mostly visited by younger, healthy people, for example because of a screening test, today there is an increasing proportion of older people, often with serious illnesses. In addition to conducting managerial screenings, the care of these serious diseases is increasingly affecting the private health sector. “We also come across several serious patients who have previously seen their GP or have sought emergency care with their complaints. Private health care must be prepared for the growing demand for this type of care, ”says Menyhárt.

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