Interview with Dennis Diokno FirstMed's Founding Partner and CEO - Part 1

FirstMed in Budapest turned 22 this year. We caught up with our company’s founder and asked him about FirstMed and how it has evolved over its many years.

Can you please give a little background on how you got to Hungary and why you started FirstMed?

During my studies at Kalamazoo College, I developed an interest in business and languages. This led to my studying in Germany for a semester and eventually to pursue a Master of International Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. My first job after Thunderbird took me all the way from sunny Arizona to a cold winter in Moscow. I worked at the first American-style private clinic in Russia.

After a year in Moscow, I received an opportunity to become the first general manager of the first joint-venture clinic in Beijing. I subsequently worked as an international healthcare consultant assisting American companies in exploring international markets.

My clients were mainly interested in China, but one sent me to Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw to assess the market for private healthcare. This client did not follow through with its plans. I saw a great opportunity for clinic development and formed my own company. I decided on Budapest because at that time it had more favorable market conditions than Warsaw or Prague.

How much has FirstMed changed since it first opened its doors?

Well, for starters, we haven’t always been FirstMed. Our long-time patients know that we started as The American Clinic Kft. We eventually changed our name to FirstMed to reflect our international patient population and diverse staff.

Besides the name change, the clinic has evolved from a small family practice with some gynecology, pediatrics, and orthopedics to become a primary care center and multi-specialty outpatient clinic. On day one, we started with five full-time employees. We now have over one hundred. The original clinic occupied only 400 sqm on half of the fifth floor. Today we lease nearly 2,000 sqm, taking the entire fifth floor, nearly half of the fourth floor, and a large area on the ground floor where we recently opened our new endoscopy center.

When we opened in 1999 we didn’t have a lot of equipment. We didn’t even have an X-ray. Now we have X-ray, mammography, multiple ultrasounds, and other diagnostic equipment.

In the early days, we had limited hours, being open only on the weekdays from 8 am to 6 pm. We’re now open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm as well as on the weekends. We also launched our extremely popular telemedicine service in March, giving our patients easier access to our doctors.

What makes FirstMed different from other clinics?

In FirstMed’s early years it was very easy to differentiate ourselves as there was no other private clinic like ours. Before we opened, people had to navigate the local healthcare system. For foreigners, this was always difficult. There were language issues as well as knowing how much to pay. In those days the ‘gratuity payment’ was widespread. What we offered was prompt service with full transparency in pricing. We were the first private clinic to offer direct insurance billing. Our main advantage over both public and the few private clinics has always been our emphasis on customer service.