State of Health: Why A Global Approach Is Key To Solving Health Care’s Biggest Challenges

Steven J. Thompson | LinkedIn | March 20, 2014

There are enormous changes taking place right now in the U.S. health care system. But my focus is on the changes taking place in health care in the rest of the world, and especially outside of the most highly industrialized countries. These changes all around the world matter to the U.S. health care industry, and to our economy. That’s because health care is becoming globalized—but not in the way you might think.

A lot of attention has been paid to the idea that patients, in particular those from the U.S., can now travel to other countries to get surgery or other treatments at lower cost than what’s available locally. But the idea that patients will be likely to travel to find the best deal in treatment, no matter where it is, has been overblown in my opinion (and as recently outlined in The Economist).

The last thing most patients battling illness or recovering from surgery want—or need—is to be far from home, friends, loved ones, and dealing with the burdens of travel. Certainly, when advanced care isn’t available locally it may be necessary to travel to a location that has the safest, most specialized care (Johns Hopkins Medicine and other top U.S. medical centers have concierge services designed to facilitate this and significantly reduce the emotional and logistical burden).

But in my experience, what populations the world over want is better local care—so health care globalization is increasingly about working across borders to raise the accessibility, quality and safety of health care available locally. The experience, skills and other resources needed to meet these higher standards are not evenly distributed around the world—for example, the United Kingdom has 28 physicians for every 10,000 people, according to World Bank figures, while Kenya has two. This has led those nations that have high concentrations of these resources and expertise, such as the U.S., to become involved in ambitious, collaborative health care improvement projects in many regions of the world.