Interview with Artur Białkowski, Managing Director of Business Services Division at Medicover
At conversation with PMR, Artur Białkowski assessed the situation in the private healthcare market, discussing various issues currently faced by the industry and considering its development prospects.
member of the board of Medicover and the Managing Director of the Business Services Division at Medicover.
How do you assess the situation in the private healthcare market?
The private healthcare market is an important part of the healthcare system in Poland and is relied upon in many areas. For example, in outpatient care – from primary healthcare to specialist medicine – over 80% of entities are private. Not only are there more private healthcare providers, but also more patients and clients using private healthcare. According to data from Private Medicine Employers, the number of subscriptions in 2022 was 17% higher than in 2021. The number of patients visiting our medical centers is also increasing, as well as the frequency of visits. This is partly due to the increase in cases of seasonal infections, which are a consequence of the pandemic and lockdown, as well as increased health awareness among patients. Our statistics show that compared to 2019, the number of infectious diseases per patient has increased by 30%. This is a significant increase, especially considering that in previous years, even if we observed any deviations, they were at a level of 3-4%. The growing interest in private healthcare services also creates new challenges for the industry, including wage pressure and a shortage of medical staff. This creates a need to change legislation, for example, to increase the rights of nurses and their role in the healthcare system, as well as to use telemedicine and e-health tools instead of limiting them.
What factors are stimulating market growth?
The most important factor stimulating market expansion is the growing demand for medical appointments and diagnostic services. On one hand, this is a consequence of the emergence of a new disease – Covid-19 – and the pandemic, and on the other hand, it is due to the aging population. The increased number of patients is also a result of migration, which has intensified after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing the private healthcare market? What is hindering its growth?
The shortage of medical staff and the associated problem of engaging doctors, as well as the rising cost of medical services, make the development of the private market difficult. Opening a new clinic and equipping it is not a problem today. The challenge, however, is finding qualified medical staff and negotiating wage conditions that will be accepted by both parties and will correspond to the rates for medical services that patients can afford.
Have there been any significant events in the market in 2022 that have had a significant impact on its dynamics?
Since the beginning of 2022, we have seen high medical inflation, resulting in an increase in prices for offered services. There are many factors contributing to this, one of which is the law regarding the minimum wage, which significantly affected employers’ costs. Additionally, the shortage of medical staff, the increasing demand for medical appointments and diagnostics, and the consequences of Covid-19 have all resulted in high costs in the healthcare sector.
What factors will have a positive impact on growth dynamics in 2023? Are there any new factors that need to be taken into account?
In 2023, in the private healthcare sector, a significant part of the growth will be the result of price indexation. This situation may be influenced by the economic situation. Currently, we do not know how the job market will behave, whether there will be any recessions, layoffs, or reductions in non-wage benefits in companies. Based on employee feedback, we can assume that completely giving up healthcare should be a last resort. Therefore, from our perspective, the most important thing right now is to encourage as many of our patients as possible to change their lifestyle and dietary habits, as well as to encourage them to engage in regular physical activity in order to have a greater impact on their health through preventive measures. This way, we will not only improve their quality of life but also reduce the costs associated with potential specialized treatment, such as hospitalization.
Regarding medical staff, do you anticipate even greater shortages, or on the contrary, have there been opportunities to hire doctors from Ukraine?
In Poland, the number of doctors per thousand residents is one of the lowest in Europe (3.3 doctors per 1,000 people). Therefore, the entire healthcare sector is struggling with a shortage of medical personnel. This problem will certainly worsen in the coming years, resulting in increased costs of medical services. Therefore, urgent systemic actions are needed to improve this situation.
Hiring doctors from Ukraine is not proving successful in practice. As recent months have shown, many doctors have returned to their country after a short stay in Poland or have limited rights to practice. The fluent knowledge of the Polish language is also an obstacle, making communication with patients difficult.
As for the effects of increasing the number of places in medical schools, we will have to wait several years. Therefore, in the near future, we expect the entire healthcare sector to struggle with a shortage of medical personnel and the resulting consequences.
Which specializations have you seen the biggest increase in the number of patients in 2022 compared to 2021? And which ones have seen the biggest decrease?
Recently, we have observed record demand for internists, family doctors, pediatricians, and pulmonologists over the past few years. Year-over-year, we have seen growth ranging from 12-16% depending on the specialization. On one hand, this is due to a significantly higher number of seasonal infections and an extended infection season. On the other hand, there is a much higher demand for diagnostic tests. We have seen a small decrease of 1% in gynecology.
Find comprehensive information about the current state of the Polish private healthcare market in the PMR report:
In your opinion, which specializations are the most promising in private healthcare in the next five years? Why?
Considering factors such as an aging population and the growing demand for advanced diagnostics, we see how important prevention and raising awareness is, and how proper habits can contribute to health and well-being. With this in mind, we have created the Medicover offer in lifestyle medicine, which includes healthy nutrition, sports and physical activity, social relationships, and stress management.
Of course, when talking about specializations in healthcare, we cannot forget about telemedicine. Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has been an impulse for the dynamic development of telemedicine and e-health services. Patients quickly appreciated the possibilities that telemedicine brings, which was reflected in the satisfaction survey results we monitored. The importance of new solutions such as tele-diagnosis, which uses AI algorithms to analyze not only medical data but also IoT and smart devices’ data for monitoring daily activity and others, will certainly increase. Medicover already offers teleconsultations with doctors in over 60 specializations, conducted via telephone or online chat. In some cases, there are tele-diagnosis solutions available, allowing remote diagnosis and control of treatment for infections such as ear infections, sore throat, fever, cold and flu, respiratory infections in general, as well as bites, allergies, and typical skin conditions.
In your opinion, which segments of the market will experience the fastest growth in the coming years (2023-2028): FFS, insurance, or subscriptions?
The pace and dynamics of growth in the entire private healthcare sector will depend on many factors. We would like private medicine to finally be perceived as an important element of the healthcare system in Poland, which should be reflected in legal regulations and social understanding. Additionally, patients would be more inclined to opt for subscriptions or insurance if legal solutions were introduced, such as tax incentives for purchasing private insurance or subscriptions.
What are the company's development plans for the coming years? Opening new facilities, acquisitions, entering new segments, etc.?
Medicover will continue its existing development strategy. We will strive to tailor our offer to meet the needs of patients. New medical center openings will definitely be planned in locations where our patients are.
In PMR, we advise and assist in the operations of your company
Market Analyst Director