What is your day-to-day work like?
I’m the head of a busy Department in a University Hospital in Bratislava and I’m also the Secretary General of IFOS - the International Federation of Otorhinolaryngological Societies.
My department is dealing with both inpatient and outpatient care. We are also a teaching hospital so aside from dealing with patients with ear, nose and throat disorders, I’m kept busy upskilling students and providing young doctors with specialised training in Otorhinolaryngology –head and neck practice (ORL).
I’m also involved in different research initiatives so when there’s a deadline for a research grant in my field of business this can be quite demanding on my time, finalising research submission with my team.
How do you help improve or save people's lives through your work?
Rhinology conditions - nose and sinus diseases, infections, inflammatory conditions and tumours - affect a huge segment of the population, particularly if you consider the amount of people affected by allergies. We carry out a number of surgical procedures relieving patients of their sinus problems.
One of the most challenging areas of our work is treating those patients with head and neck tumours. We work with a multidisciplinary team to carry out sophisticated and highly complex surgeries.
Another area is helping patients with congenital hearing loss. This is another very complicated area, particularly for children with hearing impairments. To be able to carry out life-changing surgery and provide patients with an implant and thus the opportunity to hear again: it’s hugely rewarding. Indeed, by implanting a cochlear implant in the ear of a child, you are forever connected to that child and their family, right through to their adult lives. You can see them grow and develop and enjoy a happy and successful life as they return for check-ups, not impaired or held back by a loss of hearing.
What challenges face the healthcare system?
Healthcare challenges are of course specific for each country. From my experience in Slovakia, hospitals are often not financed to reflect the hospital’s needs. For example university hospitals have different financial needs compared to more general hospitals, and of course private hospitals are much better equipped and financed which encourages inequalities in patient treatment and care.
There are also technologies that are crucial but are not always accessible due to a lack of financial resources. Navigation surgery, specific surgical equipment and professional expertise for complicated procedures, MRI scanners and modern cochlear implants – unfortunately not every region can avail of this equipment.
If you had one ask to the industry, what would it be?
We can’t ask industry to reduce the cost of their newest innovations, as they have already invested significantly in developing the latest products. Indeed, such innovations can provide significant long-term benefits to patients, particularly young patients. However perhaps these new, highly sophisticated devices are not needed as much by older patients and can be stratified depending on the real needs.
The cochlear implant and the benefits it brings to patients are vital. It would be great to see even further innovations to the implant, where it is even closer to the skin and does not need a battery and can be life-changing for the patient, in the long-term.
If you had one ask to the decision-makers, what would it be?
Aside from addressing the financial difficulties within healthcare, inequalities and patient access to technology, we also need to help less developed countries and support their local experts to gain access to the latest healthcare innovations. Governments and international organisations can play a role in influencing policy in lower economic countries – often international pressure has more influence than local lobbying; I see this influence first-hand in my role in IFOS and working with my international colleagues.
Policymakers need to prioritise education. A high standard of training and education is essential to ensure optimal patient treatment and care. You can have the best equipment, hospital and facilities but if you don’t have the professional expertise, you can’t provide patients with the care they need!
Finally, we need to consider how we develop modern hospitals. For a short stay in a hospital all you need a comfortable resting place which can be in a small compact building. We need to move away from big, old-fashioned hospitals and rather consider smaller, specialized units that are comfortable and patient-centred.