How Covid-19 advanced the cause of primary healthcare in Eastern Europe

Newly independent GE HealthCare is ready to make an even greater impact on solving the greatest challenges in healthcare that patients and clinicians face today, and in the future in Eastern Europe, says its regional director Konstantinos Deligiannis.

The dust had hardly settled on the New Year celebrations when GE HealthCare announced on January 4 that it had completed its spin-off from GE.

“Today is an incredibly exciting day for GE HealthCare as we become an independent company and start a new chapter advancing our position as a global leader in precision care,” said Peter Arduini, CEO of GE HealthCare.

GE HealthCare launched with a presence in more than 160 countries and approximately 51,000 employees worldwide serving more than one billion patients a year. The company invests more than one billion US dollars in research and development (R&D) annually and generates approximately 18 billion US dollars in revenue, with an installed base including more than four million pieces of equipment across its business segments – Imaging, Ultrasound, Patient Care Solutions, Pharmaceutical Diagnostics and Digital Solutions.

Konstantinos Deligiannis is the general manager of GE HealthCare in Eastern Europe. Speaking in his office in Athens, he is clearly excited about the opportunities the spin-off presents.

“As an independently run company, GE HealthCare will be better positioned to deliver long-term growth and create value for patients, customers, employees, and investors. Operating independently puts our people and our resources closer to those that need it most.” he says.

Deligiannis admits that ‘excited’ is often an overused word in the corporate world, but “this really is an exciting time. We are looking forward to seeing how much faster and innovative we can be, because healthcare is all about speed and innovation.”

Ultimately, he says, the spin-off is about freedom – and its freedom that will be beneficial not just for the company but for patients around the world, not least in Eastern Europe.

“What we want to do with this faster and leaner GE HealthCare is to bring to Eastern Europe all the good practice that we can but also create unique solutions for the challenges the local healthcare systems battle against” he says. “We now have the freedom, the flexibility, and the empowerment to do this in a quick and efficient way.”


When it comes to the areas in which GE HealthCare can have the biggest impact in Eastern Europe, Deligiannis lists three: oncology, developing public-private partnerships, and primary healthcare – a whole-of-society approach to effectively organize and strengthen national health systems to bring services for health and wellbeing closer to communities, and something that Deligiannis is a passionate believer in.

In this regard, he suggests that Covid-19 has left us with some important conclusions.

“The first one is the lack of efficient – or in some places any – adult primary health care. What we then saw were the consequences of this, with everybody rushing to hospitals. Then there was the vaccination program. Nobody took the time to explain the need for vaccination at community level,” he adds.

But there were positives to emerge from the pandemic, he says, such as an uptick in collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“Until [Covid] they had always been competitors, there was no discussion. But during the pandemic this changed, governments and private companies sat down at the same table. Trust was gained.”

Last chance

Deligiannis wants to see primary healthcare made as sophisticated as possible, making use of all available technology. He believes that GE HealthCare, as a company focused on diagnostics, is in a good position to make that happen. For him, now is the time to deliver. Firstly, because of the wakeup call that healthcare systems were given by the pandemic. Secondly, because of the healthcare investment funding currently available from the European Union, something he describes as a unique opportunity.

“The funds from EU sources directed for healthcare in Eastern Europe are unique and present a real opportunity to improve healthcare in the region,” he says, but warns that the clock is ticking.

“The time to act is now, because an important part of the funding is available only until 2026 or 2027. That’s not a long time in this part of the world, where it can take a year or more to take a decision. But this really is the last chance, and it would be a pity to waste it.”

Fortunately, some countries have taken the seriousness of the situation on board. Deligiannis points to Greece, where much is being done to improve primary healthcare – especially on its islands – and Romania, which will be the beneficiary of an oncology screening programme worth around 300 million euros.

In addition, countries like Poland, Czechia and Croatia have allocated significant portions of their national healthcare budget or their Covid-19 recovery programmes to improving oncology care.

“These healthcare investment programmes are at the opportunity for the region to improve cancer care from diagnosis through treatment and monitoring. As GE HealthCare we are proud to be able to support governments, hospitals, and patients along the entire cancer patient care pathway,” says Deligiannis.


Returning to the subject of Covid-19, and its long term impacts, Deligiannis says that primary healthcare is unquestionably the biggest beneficiary, “although it’s not really discussed because it also become a question of responsibility: How did we get into this situation in the first place?

“For health system strategists, it’s the main conclusion: that we can no longer go on without putting in place adequate primary healthcare.”

The holy grail for any healthcare system, be it publicly or privately funded, is to control costs. And that means keeping people out of hospital, “because the moment somebody enters a hospital, the costs increase,” says Deligiannis.

“It’s much more efficient, and less expensive to put in place good primary healthcare where everything can be done cheaper and resorting to hospitalisation only if needed. This is the key to securing good value-based care.”

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Something else to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic was the need for more education, “and not just of the public, but of medical professionals too,” argues Deligiannis.

“Every day we see that healthcare professionals need support in getting the upper hand with new, sophisticated technologies, and how to address patient cases with the new tools that are at their disposal. This is especially important in radiology where things evolve every one or two years into something completely new.”

As a company, it is another area where GE HealthCare can contribute, he says, and highlights a major Education Academy it opened in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, last April.

“We bring health care professionals such as doctors, caregivers, technicians here from all over Eastern Europe for intensive trainings and workshops lasting several days, some of them led by key European or global opinion leaders. What they learn about is the added value of technology; technology itself does not mean much, you need the right person to handle it, to translate it.”

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