In my last entry, I relayed some of my experiences from this year’s Johns Hopkins Medicine International Partners Forum, which brings together leaders, managers, care providers, researchers and other personnel from our affiliates around the world. I mentioned what a great honor it was to host it here in Baltimore—indeed, it was. But what brings me even greater pride is to see, “on paper,” the abundance of ideas this group generated in three short days. It’s an illustration of their shared passion about improving health care and it’s my pleasure to share some more of these ideas with you here.
The ongoing shift to patient-centered health care was a constant thread in many of our discussions at the Forum. Patients have always been the focus of health care, of course, but for well over a century, up until fairly recently, most of the health care world had always assumed that the best way to help patients is to build hospitals and establish processes that make it as efficient as possible for doctors to carry out diagnosis and treatment. Left out of that medical worldview is the notion of how the patient feels about things. Even aside from how rotten it can feel to be sick, the entire routine of being in the hospital and undergoing tests and receiving treatments and even just trying to get a handle on what’s going to happen to you has too often been somewhat oppressive and frustrating.
But today patients are better informed, and are feeling increasingly empowered. They have choices—like going to a different hospital. The health care world has gotten the wake-up call, and is starting to treat patients like valued customers whose feelings matter. That’s not just a matter of good business. It’s about doing the right thing for patients, which means going beyond identifying and treating disease to making patients feel well in all aspects of the phrase. That’s a big change, and it requires rethinking a lot of the ways we do things.
Leaders from several of Johns Hopkins’ global affiliates addressed this issue. For example, Gonzalo Grebe, CEO of Clínica Las Condes in Chile, talked about applying a “hotel model” in his organization, which helped it become one of the fastest growing hospitals in the entire region. (We have our own brand-new hospital addition here at our Baltimore campus–designed from top to bottom as highly patient-centered and showcased to our affiliate visitors for the first time during the Forum.)
Yet another challenge is that of holding the line on costs while improving care quality, which is critical if good health care is going to be accessible to more and more patients. That means, for one thing, that health care organizations have to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. We heard a lot of good thinking from our affiliates on that score, too. Interestingly, in a panel on innovation, two of the leaders emphasized that innovation in general—technological innovation in particular—aren’t always helpful if applied indiscriminately.
Mounes Kalaawi, the co-founder and CEO of Clemenceau Medical Center in Beirut, noted that while innovation is critical to moving health care forward, an organization can succumb to what he called “innovation disease”—meaning everyone is trying to overhaul and improve everything at once and constantly, robbing the organization of a chance to stabilize some of its critical processes. And Robert Kiely, the CEO of Anadolu pointed out that a growing reliance on email, texting and other electronic communications is threatening to rob organizations of frequent face-to-face meetings, which he argued are essential to high quality communication of important ideas, guidance and problems. (I hope he's right, (and I think he is), because I spend a big chunk of my life traveling to our affiliates!)
Medicine will always face the challenge of doing a better job at understanding and treating disease. I have to say, some of the presentations at the Forum were hugely encouraging along those lines. Bill Nelson, who heads the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, reported on the giant strides being made in the personalization of cancer treatments, which is already paying significant dividends in patient outcomes. Aravinda Chakravarti, a researcher with the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins, noted that some 7,000 disorders have now been genetically mapped, which puts us in a better position to develop effective treatments. And Deepak Edward, who directs research at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia as part of a strategic collaboration with Johns Hopkins, described how eye disorders that are rare in most of the world are common enough in the Gulf region to enable significant progress in treatment development. Several researchers from both Johns Hopkins and our affiliates noted the strides that have been made with a number of diseases due in part to successful international research collaboration.
No one at the Forum seemed inclined to flinch at the difficulties we still face in health care. Their attitude was, “Bring it on—we’ve come this far, and we plan on going a lot further.” What motivates them is knowing that if we can come up with the needed strategies, innovations and execution to face down our challenges—and I firmly believe that by working together, we will—patients will be the big winners. And as long as we keep making progress delivering better health care to more patients at affordable costs around the world, we’ll get to feel like winners, too.3 Comments