Interview with Doctor Ignacio Pujol
Doctor Ignacio Pujol is a private practitioner and the medical director of Europ Assistance Spain. We spoke with him recently about what the situation is like in his corner of the world as he balances work for Europ Assistance with his duties within the Spanish public health system.
Doctor Pujol, how were things in Madrid?
We organized a new hospital with approximately 1,300 new beds. We had patients who needed to be hospitalized and we didn’t have space because all the hospitals were completely full. We didn’t have enough ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds, so we’re creating some in this hospital. We have been organizing this service. I'm happy to say that now this ICU is no longer needed. although with a heavy heart to say goodbye to the colleagues who put it together so quickly and our patients who were transfered to normal hospitals as capacity increased.
What is the biggest challenge you were facing in your role as EA medical director?
I think the most complex thing is organizing repatriations. It is very difficult to interact with other countries. Many borders are closed. Sometimes it’s even difficult to move patients to a different city inside the same country. We had a case in Kenya where it was very difficult to move the patient to Mombasa, because they weren’t accepting any more patients. We wanted to take him to La Reunion, but that was impossible. So we changed direction and headed for Nairobi, only to change again and go to La Reunion… Things are complex.
Do you find collaborating internationally difficult right now, or has it remained the same?
Actually I think collaboration, at least between Europ Assistance doctors, is better. We all have real problems to face, so we’re collaborating more than usual. And everyone wants to help. For example when the Covid crisis started I was interacting with Jason Song, our medical director in China, who was trying to repatriate some patients to Thailand from outside Milan. He got help from the medical director of EA Thailand, and the other day I was on the phone with Daniel Boulanger our medical director in France… Right now it feels like we’re even closer to each other than usual.
We have lots of employees in Madrid, which is the Spanish epicenter of the Covid crisis. What is that like from a medical perspective?
We had a few employees infected with the virus. Things were difficult. We had to set everything up so that people could work from home. The doctors were the last ones to leave our offices. Since then, we’ve been doing follow-ups with all our colleagues. Every day or every other day we were calling them, see how they’re doing, find out if they have been hospitalized or not… I think it is important that they have our personal phone numbers and that they can call any time, day or night, if they have questions. I feel that following up with our colleagues is the most important thing we are doing now.
Was it hard to change the way you work in order to adapt to quarantine?
It wasn’t easy. Right now all our doctors are working for EA from home. We organize video conferences to talk about the most special cases, to organize what we have to do. For example at the beginning of this year we started a pilot program offering consultations with specialized doctors, pathologists, over the phone. Right now this is working very, very well, because no one wants to go to a hospital. Every day our doctors are handling 20 or 30 calls from different clients in different parts of the world, asking not only about the coronavirus, but about all sorts of medical issues. I think the service is working very, very well.