“Art is part of a positive therapy and it cures”
Martin Holcát, M.D., MBA, is the deputy director of the Motol University Hospital in Prague for curative and preventive care, the largest hospital in the Czech Republic. A former Health Minister, he’s one of the founders of DiApp Foundation – Centre for Telemedicine and has contributed to the creation of the exhibition and project Helpful Art in Covid.
How do you see the situation in the Czech healthcare system and what is the current operation of outpatient clinics at the University Hospital in Motol, the largest in the country? Are you already thinking about returning to pre-pandemic Covid-19 operations?
Motol Hospital has relaxed some restrictions on medical procedures that were introduced in connection with the Covid-19 epidemic. The surgeries have remained open since the outbreak for patients in need of urgent medical care and some procedures that were not necessary for the immediate maintenance or improvement of health were only postponed, and now we are gradually attending patients who had to wait for them. It’s premature to estimate now when a return to normal will be possible, but as soon as the situation so allows, we will provide care to the same extent as before the emergency measures. A big problem, though, is the mental health of doctors and medical staff. The waves of the Covid-19 pandemic have fundamentally changed and intensified the psychological pressure and strain with demanding daily schedules of hospital operations.
How can mental health be helped in such challenging times?
We have set up an in-house acute psychological assistance unit with a Help line and also, thanks to the Helpful Art in Covid project, we have linked up with Neo Centrum, a private psychological clinic, who have offered their services free of charge to help our doctors and medical staff get through this psychologically challenging days. This is valuable real help.
I’m also convinced that art is part of a positive therapy and it cures, and that’s why at the beginning of this year we placed the exhibition Helpful Art in Covid in our hospital’s headquarters building, which has helped us survive the pandemic in a better mood and with common sense. The pandemic has affected the whole world, and artists from many countries responded to it in specific ways. The works are inspiring and capture the ideas and impressions they had during the pandemic. We organised the exhibition together with artist Pavel Šťastný not only as a way to show our gratitude, but also with the intention of mapping the unique results of the creative processes of artists here and abroad. The international travelling exhibition maps over 2,000 works of art from 90 countries and I hope that we can present it in the Middle East, too. I have been working with Pavel Šťastný for decades on various healthcare projects.
The exhibition travelled from Motol to the central University Military Hospital and then to the Kotva department store in Prague, where it’s been complemented by the sale of innovative anti-covid products from Czech companies that were developed in the span of one year under the name Czech Anti-Covid Industry.
New prototypes of other products are still being developed and one of them is the Golden Drop touchless disinfectant dispenser. Thanks to the collaboration of visionary Serge Borenstein, designer Federico Díaz and artist Pavel Šťastný, a design was created specifically for the Middle East with Arabic calligraphy by Saleh Al Shukairi. The Palmapure disinfectant, mixed according to a Czech recipe, is gentle to the skin and fragrant.
So your range of interests is much broader. You have also taken care of Czech presidents…
Yes, the first president I took care of was Václav Havel, who was a playwright and an artist. While it’s a position of high responsibility, presidents are only human and have their normal human ills, such as smoking. I must say that all three presidents I have cared for have been very humble and disciplined patients.
What problems is hospital management solving nowadays?
I cannot ignore the current situation and everything related to the Covid-19 pandemic. This means responding to ever-changing conditions in a timely manner, to ensure sufficient care for affected patients and their hospitalization, to provide intensive care for the severely affected, to provide care and rehabilitation for post-covid syndromes, to prepare antigen and PCR testing centres, to manage the vaccination centre and the inpatient antibody administration centres, and also to attend the urgent and acute care needs of non-Covid patients.
In terms of running the hospital, one of the most important priorities is to ensure economic stability and sufficient resources. This is related to the maintenance or better development of modern health care towards patients, and the appreciation of the work of the staff.
Medicine is developing very fast, we have to apply new trends, diagnostic and therapeutic methods and keep a high professional and ethical level. The materials, the technology and the buildings, too, age very quickly and renovation is very expensive. This is especially true for the Motol University Hospital, the largest in the Czech Republic.
And what about beds?
The bed stock at Motol Hospital was reorganized in record time to provide care for patients with COVID-19 in an environment that minimizes the risk of transmission to other patients and hospital staff, and we’ll be keeping these capacities on immediate standby for the time being. Should there be a sharp increase in hospital admissions, we will be able to release them immediately. Other inpatient areas have not been not significantly affected by these changes, and so we can keep these capacities in reserve for as long as the situation requires.
What do you think will help the Czech healthcare system in the future?
I think there is a need for a broader, primarily professional consensus on a future concept of the Czech healthcare system and then some continuity in the implementation thereof. The worst is the constant changing of goals without concept, and political populism. Healthcare should not be held hostage by political parties. I know that’s a lot of idealism, healthcare is unfortunately a very easy to use card in politics. I’m artificially separating medicine and healthcare here. The former is advancing very rapidly, and the latter should be able to apply the new discoveries, which is very expensive. Medicine is progress, healthcare is political application. Therefore, in order to help the health sector it’s important to set priorities and clarify value criteria. It must be made clear whether the priority is to treat a cold or a serious illness. And, of course, we need to have a stable concept and coordination.
What are the trends in medicine that you see in the future?
With diagnostics, we’re going to an even lower elementary level. For instance, modern imaging methods can zoom in on individual cells or even molecules. Genetics is not only improving the diagnosis of diseases, but also tells us whether or not the drugs will have a therapeutic effect, or whether a very expensive drug is worth administering.
Transplantation medicine is developing significantly, too. Cardiology and cardiac surgery are at a high level. In surgery, on the one hand, there is a trend towards less invasive procedures where many cases are using endoscopic approaches and robotic surgery. On the other hand, we are moving to procedures described as heroic medicine, i.e. large-scale transplants of several organs; we have already seen the first transplants of intestines, limbs, faces, and even uterus. Another trend is the implantation of electronic devices, both in cardiology and neurosurgery, various stimulation implants, cochlear implants. As a university hospital, we are trying to support and develop these trends.
We also collaborate on various medical projects against Covid-19 with Czech companies that have developed and put into production dozens of new products and technologies very quickly in the past year. During the year of the pandemic, the Czech Republic became one big technological Start-Up.
And DiApp, where you work, is also part of this trend?
Yes, we’re also developing the field of telemedicine in the DiApp Foundation – Centre for Telemedicine, which we established last year, at the time of the coronavirus. Telemedicine is permeating many medical disciplines, the transmission of information remotely, e.g. via mobile apps, enables continuous monitoring of patients’ health condition and helps them lead a better quality of life despite their disabilities.
In the first phase, we’ve focused on a project to support children with type 1 diabetes, and their families. More than 800,000 people are affected by the disease and many more are not yet aware of it.
We’re working together with Motol’s diabetologists and thanks to the technologies we have developed and applied, diabetic children can finally take active part in sports, which not only can improve their health (e.g. their glycaemic values), but also has a significantly positive effect on their psyche. We want to foster a closer interaction of sports clubs and coaches with these kids, which is something that is often lacking due to unfounded fears. The foundation’s main motto is to tell society that diabetic children are “our children” and deserve not only treatment, but our active approach and to fully participate in social life.
Pavel Šťastný is also an ambassador of our foundation. Together with the Helpful Art in Covid platform, we want to focus on professional psychological help. We would like to offer diabetics and those around them the opportunity to consult with psychologists in the form of face-to-face or online support.
Our goal is to build a strong foundation focused on multidisciplinary medicine that will improve the quality of healthcare, primarily by sharing health data remotely through information and communication technologies (telemedicine) to improve health, prevention, education and medical research.
The future of medicine undoubtedly lies in the combination of increasingly sophisticated technology and healthcare, which is why we’ve decided to take this path. We are also looking for and connecting with foreign partners, because the international exchange of experience in telemedicine and psychological support for diabetes is the most valuable for us.
What do you like doing in your free time?
I used to take part in light athletics, scuba-diving, and skiing, but now I play golf with my wife – I play bad, but I like it. I also enjoy travelling, literature and art, and relaxing at our cottage in South Bohemia. I collect sea shells from all over the world.
Martin Holcát is the deputy director of the Motol University Hospital in Prague for curative and preventive care.
His speciality is ENT medicine.
He’s a former Health Minister of the
He was in charge of the teams that took care of the health of the presidents of the Czech Republic and other top representatives of the state.
He founded the Transplant Coordination Centre of the Czech Republic and was director of the General University Hospital in Prague.
As Minister of Health, he was instrumental in revising the financing of hospitals and spas, activated the launch of cancer prevention programs, and contributed to the completion of the Psychiatric Care Reform Strategy.
He is active in the DiApp Foundation – Centre for Telemedicine, which is dedicated to the creation and application of innovative telemedicine approaches in the lives of patients.
He has collaborated on the project and exhibition Helpful Art in Covid.