In Poland, getting quality healthcare often means bribing the doctor.
Huge hospitals built during the communist era house up to 1,000 beds, but many are poorly maintained because of a lack of funds. And an excess of doctors and nurses keeps many medical professionals grossly underpaid.
Public funding to improve the situation is hard to come by.
"To get healthcare in central and Eastern Europe, you have to slip the doctor or nurse an envelope," says Paul Lenz, M.D., originally from the Czech Republic and now living in Warsaw.
Lenz will describe how some are working to change the system during his presentation at the international summit. Lenz, who moved to Europe from the U.S. in 1997, is the head of an organization in Warsaw that uses the principles of managed care and a staff-model HMO to offer Eastern Europeans a new way to pay for and receive healthcare.
"We are trying to create a transparent healthcare system that is open, where we can compensate the doctors at a decent level so they don't have to take a bribe and so that they provide people with better access and better facilities and more humane healthcare," Lenz says.
Medicover, the organization Lenz heads, has undergone "phenomenal growth" during his three-year tenure.
When Lenz took on his role at Medicover, the group had one clinic in Warsaw and annual revenue of less than $1 million. This year, he says, Medicover runs 30 health centers in four countries (Estonia, Hungary and Romania in addition to Poland) and expects to post a $1 million profit on revenue of about $20 million.
In his address at the summit, Lenz says he plans to discuss "the absolute amazing speed at which Poland introduced market forces into a rigid social system."
Lenz also will compare healthcare environments defined by an excess of beds and physicians with those that have too few of each.
Before he joined Medicover, Lenz worked in the U.S. managed-care sector for nearly 20 years as both a physician and an administrator. Among the posts he held, Lenz was the medical director of Rutgers Community Health Plan in New Brunswick, N.J., which was acquired by HIP of New Jersey in 1989.
Lenz will also describe Eastern Europe's lack of public funding for healthcare--in Poland, for instance, the government contributes just 4% of its gross domestic product--or about $200 per capita--for healthcare services. That compares with more than $3,700 per capita in the U.S., $2,125 in France and $1,200 in the United Kingdom.