With a population of 38 million people, Poland would seem to represent one of the largest health care markets in Central/Eastern Europe. However, the health care sector in Poland is in bad financial condition and the short-term outlook is very poor. Since 1999 the health care sector has gone through several unsuccessful reform attempts.
Each minister of health was hopelessly trying to implement major changes to the existing Health Care Law regulating health care management, contributions and costs. It should be noted that the current government and present Minister of Health are finally taking the official position that the health care system in Poland must be a mixture of both public and private initiatives. Also, plans are in the works to introduce private health care insurance companies. It is expected that the current Parliament will pass some amendments promptly. Once the legal basis is established through legislative reform, U.S. Commercial Service Warsaw foresees significant opportunities for U.S. companies in the healthcare/medical segment.
The main concerns are in the areas of restructuring, privatization, transparency in treatment standards, and control of the reimbursement system. The traditional public health care sector needs investment and management skills to meet the growing demand from patients and at the same time remain within cost controls. The limited resources of state funds make it even more logical to attract private sponsors. One way to cure the ills of the Polish system is to open the market for private investors and private health care insurance institutions.
These continuing issues heavily influence the purchase of medical supplies in general. In addition, operational financing is limited in Poland, even among the larger, more successful Polish companies. Price is the main factor considered by all buyers of medical products in Poland. Quality is usually the next element considered. Investment type purchases, such as advanced medical equipment like mammography equipment, EEG equipment, Magnetic Resonance Imaging units, radiography/tomography Units, X-ray equipment, etc., are currently limited to private clinics, whose number is rapidly growing - average annual growth in the private sector is estimated at 20-30%, some larger private firms are growing even faster (30-40%).
American suppliers have an excellent reputation for high quality products. However, technological advantage is not the only factor determining success in the market. American companies should focus on educating end-users and other players in the health care sector. A successful exporter should strongly support its agent/representative at seminars and conferences. Participation in medical conferences and seminars is a very effective avenue for promotion in Poland. Also, American health care management and health insurance institutions are known to have a long history of operating in highly competitive environments as well as strong expertise in private health insurance and plans. The new Polish health care market should present American investors from this sector with good opportunities.
By Zofia Sobiepanek-Kukuryka