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The epidemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus reached Poland in early March 2020. Taking into account its development, the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus and the effects of COVID-19, as well as the very awareness of the threat among the public, Anna Rulkiewicz, CEO of the LUX MED Group, in an interview with PMR, assesses the impact of these events on the private healthcare market in Poland more than a year after the outbreak. In the interview she also talks about important development plans of the LUX MED Group.
Diffrent entities present on the healthcare market in Poland
Healthcare providers must be divided. There are at least two types of healthcare providers in the healthcare market in Poland. Some, usually larger entities, have diversified revenue streams. In addition, large entities have adapted very quickly to the new reality, transforming their business models and introducing, for example, teleconsultations on a larger scale than was the case before the pandemic. As a result, they have come out almost unscathed in 2020 and recorded increases. This includes the LUX MED Group, where we achieved double-digit revenue growth, in the range of 10-13% – says Anna Rulkiewicz, President of the LUX MED Group.
Smaller entities found it more difficult to adapt to the situation we faced. They usually have a single revenue stream – so this situation has hit them hard and adversely affected their results in 2020. On the private healthcare market, small dental practices in particular, or facilities providing only diagnostic imaging services, were almost completely shut down in the first stage of the pandemic – explains the LUX MED Group CEO.
First wave of pandemic with greatest impact on healthcare
We are well aware that there were three pandemic waves in 2020. Each was very different in its impact on health services, but also in its course. The first phase of the pandemic was the worst. Nobody understood this new situation. This is where the generation of health debt actually began. Specialist services were provided in a significantly reduced range – apart from the dentistry or diagnostic imaging mentioned earlier – and patients were afraid to visit clinics or hospitals because of the risks associated with infection with an unknown virus. After all, this was a common image conveyed by the media. Unfortunately, these fears and apprehensions were also observed in oncology. It is worth noting that in the first wave many clinics were closed, there were also ministerial decisions concerning the functioning of a part of healthcare in Poland – says Anna Rulkiewicz.
In the second wave, the health debt was increasing, in the public system there was practically no access to services, while in the private system there was already a significant opening, but there were still those who did not use the services, because they were afraid and preferred to “wait out” the pandemic at home. It should be noted that teleconsultations helped a lot at that time. At one point they accounted for 70-90% of all consultations. Currently, at the LUX MED Group, teleconsultations accounts for around 30% of all commercial consultations and everything seems to indicate that it has become a permanent feature of the healthcare system. However, we should remember that not all problems can be solved remotely – the pandemic highlighted that remote consultations were also abused in many aspects – emphasises the CEO of the LUX MED Group.
At the beginning of the third wave, we did not observe a drop in visits at all. Patients returned to outpatient clinics and doctors, slowly started to carry out deferred treatments, and dentistry started to operate as “normally” as before the pandemic. However, when high numbers of deaths began to be recorded and the daily number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed exceeded 20,000, a slight drop was again observed in the LUX MED Group, i.e. visits were cancelled – says Rulkiewicz.
We do not yet know all the consequences of the still present pandemic. What we do know for sure is that complications of COVID-19 sometimes exclude employees from the labour market for months on end, and require the system to be more involved in aspects not yet implemented on such a scale, such as rehabilitation after COVID of often young, healthy people. We also know that long-term isolation, social distance and also the deteriorating economic situation of many Poles is still the cause of a previously unseen increase in mental disorders, including depression and behavioural disorders – this is another long-term challenge for the system.
Let us also not forget that the pandemic has practically halted health promotion and prevention, significantly increasing the risk of e.g. cardiovascular diseases (for years the first and main cause of death in Poland), cancer (another leading cause of death in Poland) or other civilisation diseases, including obesity or diabetes.
However, we do not know the scale of these phenomena – we fear that it is significant. All these phenomena, observations and assessments will, and already require a new approach to medicine and the model of care provision. The system has to react now, it has to change, it has to use effectively competences, technologies, financing, potential of the private sector. The world, economy and medicine will not be the same after a pandemic – the sooner changes take place, the easier it will be for us to minimise its health effects, and the better prepared we will be for future phenomena of a similar scale – adds the LUX MED CEO.
Pandemic has not stopped the LUX MED Group’s growth
It has been an intense year. We supported the community by organising a nationwide medical helpline, we introduced free subscriptions for employees and their families after job losses, which were valid until the end of 2020, We have actively joined the National Vaccination Programme by organising over 50 vaccination centres, we take part in mass vaccinations, we will vaccinate employees at workplaces. We were one of the first to prepare employers for safe returns to work, and we published a guide entitled Safe Return to Work. These are only examples of what we have managed to do – Anna Rulkiewicz mentions.
In 2020, the epidemic and the fight against it became a priority, but we were not focused solely on it. During the pandemic we made several important acquisitions, such as the investment in St. Elisabeth’s Hospital or the Citomed chain. We also invested in dentistry. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, among others, we see a huge demand for services/providers related to psychological and psychiatric care. As a result, the Harmonia line saw the opening of a new facility in Warsaw at the UN roundabout in January 2021. Other outlets have also opened in 2020 so that our accessibility for Patients is as good as possible – emphasises the CEO of the LUX MED Group.
LUX MED to focus heavily on insurance
We will develop our presence in large and medium-sized cities. We are focusing on outpatient care, imaging diagnostics and dentistry. We also want to develop hospitals so that our offer is as complementary as possible. St Elisabeth’s Hospital will be our flagship private hospital. We are also planning to develop facilities under the aforementioned Harmonia line, but now perhaps outside Warsaw – said Anna Rulkiewicz, CEO of the LUX MED Group.
LUX MED’s organic growth accounts for 80%. Acquisitions are a kind of complement to our business model, so where we do not have the know-how and this is the only way to enter the market, we invest in acquisitions – added the President.
We want to digitalize very strongly, so that everything can be done systemically. We are developing a patient assistant in our portal in order to provide the best possible ambulatory care to our customers. The system must work in such a way that it tells users what to do and which treatment path is best to take. It is important for the patient to have one leading doctor, therefore primary care physicians play a significant role here – explains Rulkiewicz.
We will develop not only subscriptions, but also insurance. Now LUX MED in Poland is primarily a healthcare provider, but we want to grow in insurance. We want to offer products that are complementary to subscriptions and provide patients with a wide range of medical care. We are also thinking about hospital insurance products. In connection with the development and search for new insurance lines, we may go beyond Warsaw with the hospital business. We will generally experiment which products for patients will be best. We want to develop the insurance segment in order to stimulate this market a bit – emphasizes Anna Rulkiewicz.
Anna Rulkiewicz, CEO of the LUX MED Group