Vienna Medical Center – Health Care and Pain Management: Stability and success

SOCIETY publisher Gerti Tauchhammer in conversation with Professor Michael Zimpfer, Head of the Vienna Medical Center (Zentrum für Medizin und Gesundheit).

Perhaps we could begin by you sharing something about your background?

I am a native of Tyrol, Austria, my father was born in Alsace, France. He fought against the Nazis in World War II. My aunt has just received a commemorative plaque for helping with the liberation of thousands of children from a Serbian concentration camp. I’ve always admired them for the strength they demonstrated.

Professor Michael Zimpfer, as I look around your office and the clinic, I see numerous certificates hanging on the walls, could you please give a brief overview of your education.

I was very fortunate to have had excellent and benevolent teachers at the Medical School of Vienna and privileged to have received a post-doctoral fellowship in the famous cardiology department of Harvard Medical School. Here, at the cardiology department I received outstanding training and, subsequently, was able to develop fully as an anaesthesiologist and intensive care physician. Consequently, I was elected chairman at the Medical University of Vienna and head of the largest clinical department at the Vienna General Hospital. As a doctor and someone who wants to foster success, I also wanted to gain a basic understanding of financing, therefore, I studied at the University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business. Not only did this enable me to secure an MBA, it also gave me the opportunity of meeting a group of interesting and talented people. Our class formed a very close-knit group and to this day, we meet up once a year.

As of 2007, I subspecialised in pain management, where I undertook a great deal of personal training, mainly abroad. For example, prior to the onset of COVID-19, I attended a pain management master class in Miami, Florida. Various other certificates are additional qualifications taken to expand my area of expertise in medicine and which I have acquired worldwide.

I see that education is important to you, do you think you inspired others?

Education for me is about giving and taking. I have received an excellent education and I want to share my knowledge with others. For this reason, as a full tenured professor, thus, under my guidance, 48 medical fellows have completed their theses, and more than half of them have gone on to have distinguished careers, including appointments as physicians in chief, a minister of health and one was even appointed chairman of the department of anaesthesiology and critical care in Chicago. It is rare and difficult to obtain professorships overseas. I am extremely proud of all of my students and I hope that I have at least inspired some of them.

What exactly do you offer at the Vienna Medical Center and what distinguishes it from other clinics?

To start with, the Vienna Medical Center consists of a multilingual highly diversified team ensuring that patients can discuss all their medical questions. We endeavour to arrange appointments that suit the patient’s schedule, prepare a cost estimate and advise on all insurance issues, attempting to ensure the whole experience is as pleasant and comfortable as possible. At the same time, in order to provide qualified second opinions with the aid of video-conferencing, we established both a national and international network of specialists to ensure the patients receive the best possible, state-of-the-art, care.

On a pre-emptive basis, we offer regular check-ups with a full range of laboratory tests, cardiovascular checking and a wide range of radiological imaging.  

If the patient is suffering and is in pain, the most promising treatment is evaluated in combination with the individual’s medical history on the basis of further examinations coordinated and carried out directly at the center. We then provide modern, conservative and minimally invasive pain management. For this reason, the centre is equipped with an operating theatre for minimal invasive operations. If, however, an alternative and more invasive type of operation is needed, we perform the initial examination right here ensuring the patients hospital stay can be kept to a minimum. Thus, in many cases, patients are admitted, they arrive at the hospital, undergo surgery on the same day and are able to go home soon after.

How do you ensure your patients receive the best medical attention possible?

Personally, I think it is essential to consult with other experts in the medical field. I am very well connected with excellent institutes, such as radiological institutes in Vienna and other parts of Austria. I also work with exceptional specialists, in all areas of specialisation including cardiology, haematology, orthopaedics, and neurosurgery. These colleagues visit the clinic in order to hold consultations with my patients, rather than the patients having to travel to the experts. This networking with specialists does not only take place in Vienna. I have an international network, partly through my training in the USA. I receive and give international consultations, offering my patients qualified international second opinions. Very recently, I was in Mexico with American colleagues to treat a number of patients, reaffirming my belief that this is an incredibly efficient way of exchanging and gathering information.

What do you lay your main focus on?

My main focus is on innovation. The first patient in Austria with an artificial lung was treated in my department under my care. I was also heavily involved in liver transplantations. My department in the Vienna General Hospital (Allgemeines Krankenhaus, Vienna) was the first to have a video conferencing system and fostered on innovations with regards to respiratory care.

You mentioned previously you were trained in cardiology, are an anaesthetist and an intensive care physician, and as of 2007 subspecialised in pain management. Would you provide more information about your speciality?

Cases of pain management include patients who experience tremendous chronic pain located in the back, spine, neck, lumbar region, e.g., cases with acute disc herniation, joint pain and pain from neuralgias such as affections of the trigeminal nerve. Many patients do not need open surgery to help with the pain so instead they are treated using minimal invasive measures that causes the pain to subside. Non-invasive procedures and non-impacting pain therapies include completely painless dynamic computer-controlled traction, muscle building, laser therapy, feedback electrotherapy and physiotherapy. This all takes place on site, helping me maintain an overview and keep the patients on my radar screen. This means that I am fully informed and able to answer any questions or concerns they may have, and to check up on them in addition to the scheduled appointments.

With regards to joint pain, it is not always necessary to undergo endoprothetic surgery. One of the latest developments is providing regenerative medicine brought about by stem cell therapy. This attempts to stabilise the deceased joints, at the same time the pain pathways to and from these joints are blocked. The stem cells take time to do their job, but the pain blocks work immediately. Hence, when the person comes to the clinic with this problem, they will experience a significant improvement. Invasive interventions are carried out in a top-equipped operating theatre that meets all quality criteria and is designed to eliminate chronic pain over a long period of time and to restore mobility completely. All procedures are painless, as there is high-end anaesthesiological equipment as well. 

You have state-of-the-art equipment, would you tell us a little about it?

The Clinic is equipped with ultra-modern facilities, high-tech equipment, the best preventive medicine, individual health management and state-of-the-art therapies for the treatment of chronic pain at the highest level. The critical functions are fully covered by a backup power supply in the event of a power outage. The focus lays on the well-being of the patient. As mentioned earlier, I offer medical examinations, so the clinic covers the full range of laboratory tests, radiology scans, cardiology and intestinal examinations. We have all the equipment needed for these examinations, such as a treadmill to examine how the heart is functioning during exertion, echocardiography, medical ultrasound, 24-hour ECG and 24-hour blood pressure monitoring.

The Vienna Medical Center is located in the heart of the 9th district, are there any advantages of being in this location?

Yes, definitely. The Vienna General Hospital (Allgemeines Krankenhaus, AKH), St. Anna Children’s Hospital, private clinics such as the Vienna Private Clinic, the Goldenes Kreuz and the Confraternitaet (Clinic Josefstadt) are all within walking distance. In addition, there are also radiological institutes in the immediate vicinity. This is very useful, especially when a patient needs something I cannot provide in my clinic, for example a PET-CT scan, the patient simply walks over to the respective unit. In most cases, due to the regular working base I have with other hospitals, I am generally able to arrange this with a minimum waiting time.

Thank you Michael for this very informative conversation.

I truly have to thank you Gerti for our ongoing cooperation and for what you are doing – not only with regards to your diplomatic activities and, thus, bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together – but also regarding your various other initiatives in the field of health care and fortunately Vienna Medical Center is one of them. 


Fotos: Dr. Michael Zimpfer/Die Filmerei