“We did not target the upper crust with our prices”- interview with the head of Wáberer Medical Center

English2020. aug. 10.Növekedés.hu

According to the managing director of Wáberer Medical Center (WMC), they can expect annual sales of 2.5-3 billion forints when working at full capacity, while for this year the expected revenue is going to be significantly lower than the planned 1 billion forints. Róbert Mári says the biggest competitive advantage of the country's newest private healthcare institution, which cost three billion forints to build, is their Walk-IN Center, specializing in urgent but non-life-threatening cases. WMC is the only institution in Hungary where this service is available today.

Private healthcare seems to be a growing business, as György Wáberer also appeared on the market as an investor. What do you think about the coexistence of public and private healthcare in Hungary in 2020?

Currently, public and private healthcare cannot exist without each other because of both patients and doctors.

Patients rightly expect doctors to have enough time to deal with them and give answers to their questions, but this is not always possible in an overloaded state system. On the other hand, doctors who would prefer to earn extra income in the private healthcare system rather than get gratuity from patients, are also interested in working in a legal environment.

When do you expect the investment of three billion will pay off, in which, as it was said at the press conference, creditors also invested two billion?

At the press conference, majority owner György Wáberer said that this is not an industry where you can expect quick returns. I share this view myself, therefore, we are thinking of a payback period of around ten years, as it is a newly opened clinic that still needs to be introduced and accepted by prospective patients.

The clinic had already started operating before the coronavirus epidemic, but then it had to suspend its activities. How much revenue have you lost because of that?

For the time being, all we can see is that we will not achieve the sales revenue of 1 billion forints that had been planned for this year, especially as it is still uncertain whether there will be a second wave of the epidemic in the autumn. But as we said we have long-term plans, and we expect 2.5-3 billion forints in annual sales when working at full capacity.

What does full capacity mean for you? How many types of services do you offer?

Working on 2500 square metres, WMC has 30 specialist clinics, covering the most common health problems from otolaryngology to gynaecology to urology to surgery. The Orthopaedic and Locomotor Centre, providing orthopaedic specialist care, surgeries and aftercare, was opened in May. The full range of health care services is supported by the most modern diagnostic tools and procedures: our diagnostic imaging equipment includes, among others, a 1.5 tesla MRI scanner suitable for cardiac MRI and a 128-slice CT scanner for coronary and cardiac CT examinations. We are also equipped to provide 24-hour ECG, cardiac, gynaecological and urological ultrasound, 3D mammography, and bone density testing. Thanks to our own laboratory, patients do not need to be sent elsewhere for urgent laboratory tests, either. We have two fully equipped operating rooms for operations, one of them with radiation protection.

Do you have your own specialties?

Absolutely, and we are trying to stand out from other private providers with them. In July, we started the test period in our Cardiology Centre, which specializes in cardiovascular diseases and provides patients with not only high-quality diagnostic and screening tests, but also with a private pacemaker outpatient clinic, currently the only one of its kind in Hungary.

However, the biggest novelty is our trailblazer Walk-IN Centersince the emergency competence, infrastructure, specialist medical and diagnostic background required for immediate patient care are usually not collectively available with Hungarian private providers.

With us, patients can receive immediate care without a prior appointment.

Mári Róbert

What is the typical patient pathway in the Walk-IN Center?

Unfortunately we cannot treat all acute medical problems. On our website, anyone can get accurate information about the conditions with which they can come to us or they need to call the emergency or an ambulance. Sudden, non-life-threatening but urgent medical problems, such as household accidents, injuries, muscle strains, sprains, fractures, or allergic reactions and insect bites, can be professionally treated in the Walk-IN Center within a few hours. Triage (patient classification) doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes, the medical examination, including any imaging tests that may be required, together with the findings, is completed within 1 hour, and the patient's care is completed within a maximum of 4 hours. This not only saves patients time, but it also prevents self-diagnosis, as in the case of abdominal pain, for example, when people usually seek the help of Dr Google, resulting in unnecessary visits to various specialists.

With us, the patient is directed from the Walk-IN Center to the right in-house specialist, avoiding “wandering” in the system that is common even in private healthcare. We believe that this solution-oriented approach can give us a significant and unique competitive advantage in the domestic private healthcare market.

What about patients whose condition proves more severe than first thought?

We have already had several patients whose serious condition was revealed after urgent diagnostic tests performed by us. When immediate intervention is required, we call an ambulance, contact the hospital where the patient is being taken, and we do not leave them alone until we know they are in safe hands.

Private healthcare providers are often accused of cherry picking well-paid services that are in high demand, while leaving costly, long-term treatments to the state.

Private healthcare is a market-based service, and we consciously make a point of separating it from healthcare funded by social insurance. At the same time, our Walk-IN Center is an example that we do find it very important to help patients solve their medical problems as soon as possible. Life has become extremely fast, and anyone with a health problem wants to have it treated as quickly as possible.

The public healthcare system is struggling with serious staffing problems. Do you have enough doctors and nurses?

It is an important question. The highest quality equipment is necessary but not sufficient for high level healthcare, which is a human-intensive profession. Patients, however, don’t care what kind of specialist treats them, they simply look for a solution to their problem. Therefore, we do not aim to have as many doctors as possible, but rather to have versatile teams in each speciality. We are looking for colleagues who have their own specialty and are able to work together. Another point is to lure Hungarian doctors into coming home, by offering them attractive working conditions and salaries. We highly appreciate the knowledge and experience they bring home, and we find it important that they bring a fresh approach to the healthcare system.

How many doctors work for you now and what is their status? How many have returned from abroad?

WMC works with 70 doctors, 15 of whom have moved home from abroad.

Most of them work for us besides their public hospital jobs, but we also have full-time doctors, especially colleagues who moved back from abroad.

You mentioned that you do not deal with patients from the public healthcare system. Who are you counting on as patients? What is the price level of your services?

We don’t target the upper crust with our prices, we would prefer the healthcare services we provide to be available and affordable to the widest possible range of people. We are in direct contact with health funds, but also with the organizers of the domestic market, who help insurers' clients find their way in the private healthcare market. In addition to private individuals, we also offer packages to companies, in which screening tests are an important element. We want to achieve that people do not only go and see doctors when they are already ill, and we want to raise health awareness to the best of our ability, by, e.g. offering pocket-friendly screening packages for young people.

At the end of the 20th century, the private healthcare market was dominated by surgeries working in homes, they were later followed by diagnostic service providers and specialized private care providers, such as cardiologic, gynaecological and other centres, and finally private hospitals emerged. Patients expectations have also changed a lot; people are no longer happy to be sent back and forth between private and public institutions. How do you see the near future of private healthcare in Hungary? Will the emergence of large companies lead to a more transparent market?

I think that the emergence of large companies in the medium term will direct market players towards more transparent operations. I am particularly pleased with the mandatory registration to the National eHealth Infrastructure (EESZT) for all private market participants, as well as the introduction of online invoicing in July. These ensure a level playing field for all players in the private sector. We personally call for the transparent publication of measurable quality standards for all healthcare providers, because according to these, patients can decide where they want to be treated.