How a Viennese Clinic Overcame the Pandemic – Open to Foreign Patients in Times of Crisis Too

Source: eKapija Monday, 16.05.2022. 12:17
(Photo: Dragan Petrović)
The health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic practically paralyzed the world in early 2020. The consequences were felt on all levels – there were problems with supply chains, many jobs fell through, and people also faced an existential crisis. Still, medical workers bore the brunt of the pandemic. All health institutions in the world had to fully reorganize their business and adapt to the conditions of the pandemic.

The past two years have also been very challenging for one of the oldest private hospitals in Europe, Wiener Privatklinik (WPK). Faced with the as-of-then unrecorded crisis, they had to react fast in order to provide their patients with the best possible care. Despite the numerous challenges and problems, they managed to do so. The door of this Viennese clinic was open nearly all the time for both local and patients from abroad.

– We had to fully reorganize the operations at the hospital in order to enable the continuation of a smooth flow of patients and in order to remain a covid-free zone. That was especially important because we have a large number of very sensitive patients, such as oncology or surgery patients, whose immune system is already considerably weakened. That is why we had to do our best to keep our staff and patients healthy. I have to say that we were very successful in it – said Ema Hafner, Head of Marketing and International Business Department at WPK.

At this Viennese hospital, they are proud of the fact that they managed to provide the best possible medical care to their patients even in the time of Covid.

– Almost throughout that period, our door was open to all patients, both local and foreign ones. The exception was the lockdown period, when everything was closed down. Travel restrictions that all countries had were another problem, which made it more difficult for our patients from abroad – Hafner says.

Journalists from Belgrade visiting WPK (Photo: Dragan Petrović)Journalists from Belgrade visiting WPK

However, even then, WPK managed to be of service to its patients.

– Coming for treatment to Austria was possible only for those patients who had clear medical documentation indicating that they had a health problem that needed to be solved urgently. They got special letters from us in which we confirmed that, so we were constantly communicating with the airport border control, because they strictly monitored and checked everybody who was entering the country. It was a new challenge that we hadn’t had before and we had to learn what to do in order to support patients and enable them to come for the treatment – Hafner said.

She adds that they also had oncology patients who needed to continue the previously started treatment.

– We couldn’t leave them without a treatment, despite Covid. It was challenging for both the patients and for us, but I believe that we managed to do everything the best we could – she points out.

Another step that the clinic made in order to be of service to its patients was to found the WPK Online Healthcare Center. According to Hafner, it turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.

– At the time of Covid, we got the idea to enable online video consultations and thereby be available to our patients from abroad. As I was the initiator of this project, the initial idea was to have an online center only for certain concrete diagnoses, but it turned out that the service was very successful and that online consultations were possible for nearly all medical cases.

(Photo: Dragan Petrović)
The way the WPK Online Healthcare Center functions is that your first need to request a free callback from the managers who are in charge of communicating with patients. They further follow your case and connect you with the best doctor, based on your health problem. This is followed by the scheduling and then the realization of the video consultations of the patient with the selected doctor.

According to them, this all happens very quickly, and it often happens that a response to a request for online consultations arrives within a day.

Although the pandemic has to a certain extent influenced the operations of WPK, the number of patients treated at the hospital has not been considerably reduced.

– The crisis has certainly had an impact on our operations, which was felt the most in 2020, especially at the very beginning of the pandemic. However, the situation was later stabilized and last year was already much better, more precisely, it was at the level of 2019 – said Prim. Dr. Walter Ebm, CEO of WPK.

The prices of services, as they said, did not change during the pandemic, but the costs increased considerably.

– The hospital has had considerable costs and we have invested a lot of funds in the business organization itself. The purchase of a special disinfection robot followed, and also the procurement of equipment, masks, protective medical suits, tests for the staff and the patients… We also had to fully reorganize the hospital in order to operate without a problem and take care of the patients, which required hiring additional staff. All this to the end of preserving the patients’ health, but also the health of the hospital workers themselves – said Ema Hafner.

For the doctors themselves, the biggest challenge during the pandemic was how to save the patients and keep them healthy.

– All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a situation in which that job, already challenging as it is, became even harder. The fact that we work with the most sensitive patients, whose health is already very jeopardized is difficult enough, and the pandemic made that situation even worse. That is why the biggest challenge was how to keep the patients from getting infected with Covid – said the oncologist Prof. Dr. Christoph Zielinski, Head of WPK Academy Cancer Center.

Rooms at WPK (Photo: Dragan Petrović)Rooms at WPK
Covid also significantly increased the complexity of the cases. People had started fearing getting infected in public places, so they avoided coming for medical checks.

– That is another huge problem brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the fear of Covid, people didn’t have their medical checks done, which has led to their coming when the disease has already progressed. When it comes to oncology, by the end of this year and the beginning of next one, we expect a considerable increase in the number of complex cases, precisely due to the late diagnostics – Zielinski said.

He also pointed to the fact that a survey of the European Society for Medical Oncology has shown that, due to the stress caused by the pandemic, nearly a third of oncologists in Europe want to change their profession.

– Which is a great problem. On the one hand, from next year, we are looking at an increase in the number of patients, whereas, on the other, there will be increasingly few doctors who will be able to treat them. So, we have a health crisis of enormous proportions – Zielinski said.

Furthermore, we mustn’t forget that the pandemic is not yet over, said the clinic’s CEO, Walter Ebm.

– It’s true, the situation is much better now, the virus is no longer as aggressive as it used to be, however, none of us know what awaits us tomorrow, in the autumn or the winter. That is why we have to be very careful – Ebm warned.

D. Obradovic

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