Global Collaborative Healthcare and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Six Things to Do while Travel is on Hold

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By Nicole J. Rosson, MHA & Heitham T. Hassoun, MD

COVID-19 is rapidly changing the world around us and has severely impacted healthcare organizations in innumerable and unfathomable ways. For US healthcare organizations, many of whom participate in global collaborative healthcare, they are hit twice as hard. Over the past twenty years, academic medical centers and premier tertiary and quaternary care hospitals in the United States have engaged in global collaborative healthcare through the provision of care to international patients who seek care at healthcare institutions in Europe and the US, oftentimes seeking out cutting edge care not available or readily accessible in their home country as well entering into trans-national relationships- offering consulting services, managing healthcare facilities abroad as well as establishing joint ventures and wholly-owned entities.  

These activities were viewed to have numerous positives, including the ability to improve the health of millions, increased collaborative opportunities in the realm of research and education, and having a positive impact on the hospitals’ bottom lines. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought most of this collaborative work to a standstill.  

If you or your organization is involved with global collaborative medicine, the coming months and perhaps years, will be challenging – as patients and healthcare professionals who participate in bi-directional knowledge transfer are unable or reluctant to travel and organizations are focused on essential operations.  US hospitals have seen their international patient volumes plummet over the past two months and even as travel restrictions lift, it is anticipated that it will take time for people to willingly travel.  In addition, the ability to conduct onsite consulting and knowledge transfer activities such as assessments, clinical rotations, administrative and clinical observerships, workshops, and conferences provided at either partner facilities or at home will be slow to ramp up.

For some organizations engaged in the care of international patients or collaboration, it may be necessary to redeploy, furlough or lay off staff and strive to reduce non-labor associated expenses.  For others, it may be necessary to suspend or cease international collaborations all together.  Many hospitals, particularly those with major investment outside of the US, are assessing how to best position themselves to survive during this period of time to ensure that they are ready to hit the ground running when the travel restrictions and hospital operations return to a certain level of normalcy.  Here are six things organizations can do during this time of slowed activity.

Review your strategy and service offerings

Global Collaborative Healthcare continues to evolve and COVID19 will further impact the landscape.   Now is an ideal time to review and refresh your strategy, tactics and service offerings, particularly for organizations that have been in this line of work for many years.  Even before the global pandemic, healthcare delivery has been changing rapidly, adapting new technologies, re-design of facilities and processes for patient-centricity, and eliminating waste in the care paradigm. Now more than ever is time to push these initiatives across systems and borders.

Assess the delivery models for international patient care and international collaborations

COVID19 will likely have a long-term impact on how healthcare, consulting and knowledge transfer services are delivered.  While in-person interactions will remain the modality of choice, the barriers that have long stymied the provision of telehealth and the remote delivery of consulting and education services are rapidly breaking down. This is out of necessity and the supporting infrastructure, including regulatory and reimbursement mechanisms, are being put in place to support the e-delivery of services.

Identify new markets  and collaborative models for delivery and financing

The global healthcare market is constantly evolving and shifting.  Now is the perfect time to assess the market, competitive landscape, what new needs and demands are emerging and from where. Pre-COVID19, there was a global trend of nontraditional players engaging in the health care industry which had the potential to both support and suppress incumbents’ efforts to grow revenue.   Efforts should be made to assess potential threats and identify opportunities for engaging these newcomers.  In addition, these entrants may also create opportunities for new types of public-private partnerships and other financing models 

Gain a better understanding of your current and future patients

Although many hospitals routinely conduct patient satisfaction surveys, it’s an ideal time to dig into the data or follow up directly with past patients to gain an understanding of their overall experiences and opportunities for improvement.  In addition, now is a good time to explore lost leads- both for individuals who opted to receive care elsewhere or lost business development opportunities.

Revisit your website and marketing collateral

Your organization’s website is often where patients first interact with your company and it’s where people get a first impression, learn about your brand and see what services you offer. Does your website allow you to put your best foot forward or does it require a facelift or redesign? Is your marketing collateral meet your needs or having you been “making do”?  Now is the perfect time to take inventory and work to refresh.

Engage in performance improvement activities

There’s no better time to turn inward to assess internal operations and undertake performance improvement initiatives. It’s time to improve efficiency and resource utilization that can result in improved patient, client and employee satisfaction to better position your company.  

There will always be a demand for high-quality healthcare.  Patients will continue to seek out complex clinical care and innovative treatments that are not available in their home country, and health systems and countries will seek guidance in the establishment of new clinical programs, improved efficiencies and further enhancing the level or quality of care.   Although the landscape may shift, countries will continue to invest in healthcare infrastructure in order to expand access, seek enhancement in clinical programming and improve quality and services. These developments will continue to create favorable conditions and opportunities for US hospitals to collaborate on a global scale.

Nicole J. Rosson is a Director, Global Services, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Heitham T. Hassoun is the Vice President and Medical Director, International at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, California, USA. 

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