Covid-19 has had an extraordinary impact on healthcare systems across the globe, leading to a decrease in preventive screenings because some patients are hesitant to see their health care provider. But we must understand that preventative healthcare helps maintain our health. Screenings are important to avoid future health problems or catch them early when they are easier to treat.
But at the moment, do the risks of leaving our homes and going to medical facilities stack up against the well-documented benefits of preventive care, such as cancer screenings, child immunisations, etc? We spoke to Nikolaos Maravegias MSc, Head of the Pathology Department for the Athens Medical Group, Head of the International Patients Department and Consultant Internist, to give us his thoughts on these issues. The Athens Medical Group, alongside other healthcare services, specialises in preventive, lifestyle-related and chronic diseases diagnosis, effectively improving quality of life and enhancing longevity.
GDL: Is it safe to visit Athens Medical Group’s (AMG’s) clinics during this period? Are there any measures and protocols in place?NM: It is perhaps the safest period to come for consultation or hospitalisation, or undergo a preventive health check-up. Since the beginning of 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, strict protection and control measures have been applied for the arrival of entrants into the group’s clinics. These are based on international standards adapted to Greek conditions and periodically modified in accordance with the instructions of the National Public Health Organisation and the evolution of the pandemic and pandemic-related data. These measures are applied to Greek and foreign citizens, to employees of the clinic, to those who come for examination or hospitalisation and to the absolutely necessary escorts.
GDL: Is preventive medicine important? How often and what kind of check-up should we undertake today?
NM: Preventive medicine is a key pillar of the public health of an organised State. It is based on the combination of healthy lifestyle rules and appropriate laboratory tests on a case-by-case basis and after assessment by the responsible physician. Usually, basic preventive examinations take place annually and, in addition to the clinical evaluation, they include the appropriate blood-cardiological-ophthalmological and ultrasonographic tests; depending also on the sex, profession, age, family and individual history, other specialised examinations may be added such as mammography, prostate gland evaluation, colonoscopy, etc.
The future of medicine involves promotional total health protection, which is already applied in our Group’s clinics, and I personally lead a part of this effort. For example, when a person comes to me for screening, we discuss all the medical and social issues that concern the patient, e.g., lifestyle, quality of sleep, work and family conditions and any psychosomatic disorder. We are not content with simple evaluation, but we aim to reduce or eliminate any issues as soon as possible, resulting finally to the promotion of the health and well-being of all those who trust us.
GDL: Are the infections currently circulating in Greece, from SARS-CoV-2 to influenza viruses dangerous? What vaccines should we perform? And if we get sick, is there a need to have a check-up upon recovery?
NM: Of course, they must be countered and treated as dangerous both for public health and for the economy (because of their large dispersion and impending consequences), but also because of the extended morbidity and increased mortality.
Prevention is without doubt the best treatment and this incorporates the use of vaccines. The flu vaccination is annual and is issued to vulnerable groups (not only to those with chronic diseases, but also to closed populations and those caring for people with chronic diseases). While in other Western countries, it concerns the entire population over six months of age. Vaccines for pneumoniococcus are given to people at increased risk and then we must not also forget the vaccinations for shingles and tetanus.
With regard to the current pandemic, namely vaccines against Covid-19, it is imperative that a universal vaccination be implemented as widely as possible. In my opinion: i) the numbers of cases-deaths from SARS-CoV-2; ii) the huge impact on the global economy of Covid-19; and iii) the excellent safety profile after hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines (mainly of the mRNA type); are providing the best evidence for the rapid inoculation of the anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
A preventive health check-up is not recommended during the proximal period of time after illness – a reasonable period of time is usually two months.
GDL: Are there all the medical specialties in AMG’s clinics? All hours of the day? And if necessary, can anyone come to one of the clinics in an emergency?
NM: AMG’s clinics cover all medical specialties on a daily and 24-hour basis, either with scheduled appointments or in the emergency department. This applies both to adults and children.
GDL: Is it possible for discussions with the patient to take place in the English language?
NM: Absolutely. In fact, there is a special department for international patients (of which I am the coordinator-doctor) through which international patients are catered for, as well as for all those who prefer to communicate in English or any other foreign language covered by the relevant department.
GDL: Are only insured patients accepted for out or in patient clinics?
NM: We accept all patients, whether they are insured or not, both with state and private insurance schemes – domestic and international.
At the same time, AMG has designed a model programme with special provisions for diplomats and members of the Consular Corps, i.e., the ‘Diplomatic Health Passport’. I want to emphasise in this regard, that we undertake an absolutely 360º service with special prices and privileges and that we communicate with all involved parties, including insurance companies and specialised partners in order to handle all procedural issues and technical details.
We place emphasis on the maximum convenience of the international patient who trusts us through the unique patient-centred approach that makes AMG stand out not only in Greece, but also internationally.
GDL: Dr. Maravegias, you are acknowledged as one of the leading internists, combining breadth of medical knowledge with a very long experience in preventive medicine and specialisation in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. How do you see the evolution of health in the country?
NM: Well-organised and equipped centres, such as the clinics of AMG, are capable of dealing with all ranges of diseases and at the same time emphasise prevention and health promotion.
However, the great challenge is to tackle the phenomenon of a large number of people who avoid the imposed preventive health check-ups, resulting in short- or long-term cost because of delayed diagnosis; this phenomenon was greatly exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis due to the fear of visiting hospitals for reasons other than probable Covid-19. Many patients are going to hospitals with great delay, ignoring the signals given to them by their body and upon the instructions of their personal doctors, who like me, insist on regular preventive check-ups, plus a visit to a qualified physician to report any health issue that may arise.