By Gela Megeneishvili
As the largest chain of clinics and serving around 500 000 Georgian patients in 2020 alone, Evex Clinics has held an especially crucial role amid the ongoing pandemic. To maintain a stable healthcare system while enabling patients to have access to top-notch services was one of the many primary goals of Evex Clinics which prove its status as one of the most stable healthcare establishments. To gain further insights into how the team have handled the pandemic, The FINANCIAL reached out to CEO George Gordadze and Commercial Director Natia Kapanadze.
Q. What have been the toughest challenges you’ve faced and how have you handled them?
A. Similar to many other businesses, as healthcare service providers we also faced major challenges, with the exception being that we were forced to be on the frontline at all times.
Firstly, we had to take measures to protect our personnel and provide a safe working environment in our clinics, to allow our doctors to take proper medical care of their patients. We separated potentially infected and healthy patients from one another, therefore we created special locations outside of the clinics for COVID-19 testing.
This challenge was further intensified by uncertainty over how long the pandemic would last for, while it remained vital to demonstrate to all of our frontline employees dealing with potential COVID-19 infected patients that they would be able to continue working in a safe environment and keep their jobs irrespective of how severe the pandemic got.
We fully understood the impact the crisis had on other industries leading to possible job losses or income reduction which could affect many families. In turn, we increased the Evex Clinics fund by GEL 100 000 to address the needs of our employees.
Q. What preparations did you undertake when the pandemic was officially declared?
A. Since the emergence of COVID-19, we put ourselves into intensive communication with our foreign colleagues, especially those in countries that had faced the pandemic earlier than Georgia.
We started to actively collect crucial information and listened to the shared management experience while preparing for all possible outcomes, in response to the potential spread of the disease in Georgia.
Q. What was your role as CEO in that process?
A. It was quite a challenge, pushing us as a medical institution to the frontline and forcing us to engage both proactively and reactively. Our management had to be ready to make instantaneous decisions as the information on COVID-19 was constantly updating on a monthly, sometimes even on a daily basis as well, requiring a dynamic management response from our team.
Courageousness also mattered a lot in the frontline, due to the fact that it was necessary to take non-standard decisions at times.
Despite the difficulties we faced to protect our staff, while also providing smooth service delivery to all our customers, including primary healthcare, we had to stick to our core values.
Q. What was the main challenge you faced after COVID-19 was first detected in Georgia?
A. From the first days of its emergence, we took proactive steps to protect our personnel and our customers. First, we made sure to provide a safe environment to avoid both the contamination and spread of the disease, since many western countries had already faced the issue of medical personnel being the cause of the spread of the infection.
We introduced rules and regulations that were to be followed 24/7 as well as training, guidelines and protocols for our medical staff on how to protect themselves.
While the Government was taking steps to curb movement in the country, patients continued to come to our clinics for outpatient services. Consequently, we had to manage the surge of regular patients and COVID-19 test-seeking ones, which we separated by setting up two booths.
In total, we delivered more than 2 000 000 services to more than 500 000 patients throughout the year. Another issue that the country faced back then was the increased rate of hospitalizations, but we proved to be ready for that scenario as well.
Our regional community clinic with 20-30 beds became involved in hospitalization processes and 7 clinics with 250 beds were deployed as well. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our personnel including medical, service, office and administrative ones, whose daily efforts enabled us to effectively manage the needs of patients.
We organized online doctor’s consultations to increase availability. More than 20 000 customers subscribed to those services. We also joined the Emergency Service 112 project and provided home care to more than 20 000 patients nationwide. Additionally, we engaged in diverse service delivery and our institution delivered more than 100 000 PCR and Antigen tests, making us the number one primary healthcare provider for our citizens.
Q. What do you identify as the major challenges that primary healthcare is facing?
A. Primary healthcare has experienced a certain degree of development and COVID-19 has clearly shown us its importance throughout the country, as it holds a crucial role in saving lives.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the healthcare system can be measured by one of the main indicator - the quality of life expectancy and that is exactly what the system we are a part of serves.
We believe that different needs emerged at each stage of the healthcare system’s reforms. Initially, the affordability and availability of primary healthcare were the major priorities, while now it is the quality that must be enhanced.
There are several changes to be made, and I am certain health officials are working on the issue, while we maintain direct communication with them. The pandemic might increase the time before it arrives, but I am sure a quality-focused payment system will soon be implemented.
Today, primary healthcare for the most part relies on the state allowance of the beneficiary. In other words, quality enhancement needs to be encouraged more, as it would allow service providers to offer better outpatient care.
State financing of primary healthcare is about 25 percent, while hospital service expenses are thrice as much. Let me explain with the simple example, it is well known that early detection of cancer cases is both effective on a patient vitality and cost-effective as well. Therefore, the system is totally oriented on early detection and treatment of the disease.
The same logic should apply to chronic diseases. So, the early detection, diagnosis and managing the disease by primary health care system can avoid possible future complications, need for hospitalization and is cost-effective as well.
Raising customer awareness of their own health is crucial and therefore we, as a part of the healthcare system, are duty bound to inform the public about healthcare practices.
In turn, patients should also be actively involved in their own healthcare activities. No matter how good a doctor is, they simply cannot succeed without cooperation from their patient.
Q. What CSR activities has Evex Clinics rolled out during the pandemic?
A. [Natia Kapanadze] Evex clinics have always prioritized increasing public access to healthcare services as part of its corporate social responsibility. While the objective was becoming more urgent due to the pandemic, our first step was to provide full support for those in need from the very beginning.
At first we initiated a corporate campaign for those companies failing to adjust to remote working, yet whose functioning was vital for the city. Our specially-trained medical crews delivered on-the-spot medical assistance to them through Evexmobile to provide COVID-19 check-ups and medical recommendations intended to both curb and avoid the spread of the disease.
We covered around 50 major companies, while screening more than 5000 employees. The initiative proved to be essential, as confirmed by the fact our corporate partners responded with very positive feedback.
We have also launched another major campaign by releasing special medical card, since a lot of people lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic and could no longer enjoy private insurance or special privileges in regard to medical discounts. We designed medical cards to allow 50 and 70 percent discounts on full outpatient services, such as laboratory and instrumental assistance, ultrasound diagnostics, and medical consultations. Around 50 000 customers enjoyed the benefits, including free consultations with a family doctor.
We also joined the social programme initiative by Liberty Bank to extend accessibility to 800 types of outpatient services with up to 50 percent discounts to its 1 200 000 social card holders. We have involved all of our 33 clinics in this project.
The contribution of Evex Clinics in the programme allowed around GEL 400 000 worth of discounts in 2020 alone, which has proved to be very helpful during the pandemic.
Another noteworthy social programme of ours was the family doctor’s free consultation services. We enabled services to be totally free for those working remotely or in person, regardless of their insurance status.
Every individual could get a free medical phone or video consultation, while our doctors were ready to fully answer all their questions concerning ongoing or general medical issues.
We designed free Facebook doctor’s offices which everyone could pay a virtual visit to, with our doctors ready to instantly respond to all of their questions.
The initiative included three vitally-needed medical directions, these being paediatrics, family doctor, and gynaecology.
This social project continues to this day, and our doctors remain happy to provide free consultations for all those in need.
All our projects serve the sole purpose of enhancing public accessibility to medical services and we believe that common effort and unity will ultimately guide us to defeating this pandemic.