It can be said that when it comes to introducing business innovation into practice, the health care delivery industry is usually behind the business world by about 10 to 15 years. Think electronic medical records, organizational structures, service delivery models. While it is easy to look at the negative aspects of such a reality, there are two sides to this coin. Watching business-changing trends take hold in other industries years before they affect health care can allow the health care industry to plan and prepare for drastic change.
Well, here is an opportunity: the globalization of health care delivery.
It’s happening. While some American hospital-affiliated organizations may be involved with health care delivery overseas, like in Dubai’s Healthcare City (official site here), it is not necessarily required. The best of American health care has set up shop in the Gulf region: the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Medical School. But countries like Thailand and India (and pretty much everywhere else) are luring Americans toward destination health care at organizations with little American affiliation.
In an era of rapidly rising health care costs, diminishing insurance coverage, and increasing value expectations, seeking care overseas has increasingly become a viable option. The term medical tourism has been around for a few years. Widespread diffusion of the idea is expected. And why not? Patients can seek care from U.S. trained physicians at a fraction of the cost (round trip airfare included).
According to this article in Fast Company, “As many as half a million Americans streamed abroad last year in search of affordable alternatives for hip replacements or prostate surgery.”
Worldwide health care delivery will not just be an option for the uninsured or the financially strapped American. American insurers are knee-deep in the trend:
And if all this sounds a bit outlandish, brace yourself: The big insurers are already looking into it. “Once they understand the ramifications of this, you’ll see the larger players start crafting policies that allow people to receive treatment overseas,” Ori Karev, CEO of UnitedHealth International, the global arm of the UnitedHealth insurance conglomerate, told me. “I think you’ll find most of us exploring this. We are a business at the end of the day.”
What does this mean? It means we need to get our health care house in order. The best medical care in the world takes place in this country. It just doesn’t happen everywhere in this country. We must take steps (NOW! so yes that may mean individually by each care organization) to ensure the highest quality, highest value medical care in every medical instance in the U.S.
So go read the entire article if you haven’t already. This trend will have a major impact on health care in the future. Worldwide health care delivery networks are a very realistic possibility (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
Let us take a lesson from the auto industry on the impact of global competition. While U.S. auto makers move manufacturing out of this country, foreign auto makers move production into the U.S.
It is time to get competitive on value, not just with the hospital down the road, but with the hospital over the ocean. Globalization creeps. Before you know it, it may have the U.S. health care industry in its grasp.
One thought on “The Globalization of Health Care Delivery”
Medical tourism is a great option for some as you have pointed out. Through my international travels – mostly to South East Asia I have seen some exceptional hospitals such as Pattaya Bangkok in Thailand. The care there is superb to say the least.
I suspect though at the end of the day, medical tourism will only be realized by a few and not a majority of people. Even with the advent of insurance companies providing medical coverage abroad we (U.S.) still have to contend with the 47 million folks who are under insured.
To make international medical care viable to the masses I would think that additional cost items such as air fare, hotels, and other expenses would need to be covered by the insurer. I don’t know that they are or will be. These additional expenses if not covered would likely make medical tourism costs prohibitive for most.
In any event there is excellent care that can be obtained via international healthcare systems, but once again, cost and accessibility become issues. For those who can it is a great alternative.