We recently held our annual Johns Hopkins Medicine International Partners Forum, which brings together leaders, managers, care providers, researchers and other personnel from our affiliates around the world for two days of knowledge sharing, some opportunities for relationship-building and general hanging out and talking. Every other year the Forum is hosted by one of our affiliates around the world, but this was one of the alternate years in which Johns Hopkins had the extreme honor to host everyone here in Baltimore.
A lot of useful information, great ideas and stimulating interactions come out of each year’s Forum, and this one was no exception. There are any number of rich examples, thanks to the real leadership our affiliates have shown in their respective regions and in many different domains: from groundbreaking medical education (Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Malaysia) to public health efforts likely to have real impact on a region’s entire population (our collaboration in Trinidad and Tobago), from establishing world-class transplant capabilities in a region that has never had them (Anadolu Medical Center in Istanbul) to cancer-screening initiatives that could ultimately save thousands of lives (Tawam Hospital in the United Arab Emirates), or to building a large nation’s first string of primary care clinics (the Bharat Family Clinic project in India).
But what struck me about this year’s Forum more than anything else was the way in which everyone seemed so focused not on rehashing their accomplishments, but rather on coming together to figure out solutions for the challenges that yet lie ahead. All of us who were at the Forum, and indeed pretty much everyone in health care, agree that these challenges are significant, and at times they even seem overwhelming. But the spirit in which these problems were discussed wasn’t that of hand-wringing and bemoaning our burdens. It was that of rolling up sleeves and collaborating on ways to overcome them. And the international nature of these collaborations, though it may sometimes add a bit of complexity to the equation, also serves to inspire the sort of varied perspectives and greater flexibility that enhances the effort to come up with answers.
One of the issues highlighted at this year’s Forum was the skyrocketing rate of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases that highly developed and developing countries alike are experiencing. This is truly a global health crisis, and one that is largely being driven by the relentless growth in obesity rates around the world. Johns Hopkins pediatrics researcher Richard Rubin presented some startling and grim obesity statistics, including the fact that right now in the U.S. alone the obesity crisis is costing $500 billion a year.
Clearly there is real urgency to getting health care providers involved in finding ways to help people lose weight and keep it off, or to not gain excess weight in the first place, and to do it on a societal scale. It seemed that everyone at the Forum had ideas. The key, of course, is changing people’s behavior, but research hasn’t yet found any silver bullets to that end. It looks as if many, many things will have to happen, from reducing the availability of junk food and increasing access to healthier foods, to better patient counseling and education, to school programs aimed at getting children started off on the right foot when it comes to eating. And health care will have to find ways of broadening its mission and competencies from that of treating sick patients to include helping patients and entire populations develop lifestyles that reduce the risk of disease.
That was just one of the fruitful and important discussions I witnessed at this year’s Forum. In other sessions, we wrestled with some of health care’s most critical challenges, like implementing patient-centered care models and stemming ever-rising costs. Perhaps one of the most unexpected and insightful exchanges was about the potential downside of technical innovation. I could go on…and in fact, I think I will do exactly that in my next entry.2 Comments