In Praise—But Not Imitation—of Our Colleagues

by JHI Staff on February 28, 2013

We’re very proud of the role we’ve played in helping to pioneer the relatively new field of global collaborative health care. But I frequently go out of my way to make it clear that Johns Hopkins Medicine is by no means the only player in this small but increasingly important segment of the health care world.

There are many well-regarded hospitals in the U.S. (most notably the Mayo Clinic), and elsewhere in the world, that do a good job of meeting the needs of patients who travel internationally to get complex care that may not be available to them at home. There are also a handful of hospital systems and academic medical centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic, that have collaborated to build, manage and improve health care facilities in other parts of the world.

It’s an honor to be in this league of prominent international health care players. And I’d be extremely pleased to see all of us continue to thrive in these challenging markets, both because of the positive impact that would have on health around the world, and because it would further strengthen this critical field that we’re dedicated to growing and improving. Sure, we’re competitors, but there’s more than enough work to be done here and throughout this “flattening” world for all of us.

But just because several of us address these same international challenges doesn’t mean we all do it in exactly the same way. I got thinking about this recently when I saw a quote in a recent article in a Minnesota newspaper. The quote mentioned Johns Hopkins as being among those institutions that have been “aggressively replicating the Mayo model” of international patient care. I took this quote with a grain of salt, knowing that hospital systems often have to campaign aggressively to drum up local support. But it also inspired me to consider how our model differs from those of other institutions.

We’ve had a considerable amount of time to formulate, learn from and tweak our model. Johns Hopkins has been a leader in academic medicine for more than a century, and we’ve actively focused on meeting the special needs of international patients for several decades.

Among our full-time team of 130 international patient services staff are more than 20 highly trained medical concierge professionals proficient in dozens of languages. Every family that comes here from abroad is assigned to one of 70 international care coordinators who understands the family’s local culture and expectations, knows the Johns Hopkins system well, is certified to provide medical translation and can answer any questions throughout their stay. We have a patient experience team that, among other things, provides thorough orientations for international families, to make sure they know what to expect and how to get whatever help and answers they need. Throughout their stay patients and families are supported by skilled language interpreters and translators. We ensure our patients and their families don’t feel alone or confused during the clinical care experience here.

We were also among the very first to collaborate on health care globally at an institutional level. Over more than a decade, we have learned (initially the hard way!) that just because certain clinical or administrative approaches work here doesn’t mean we can drop them into hospitals in other countries and expect them to produce the same results. Instead, it takes the exacting work of long-term collaboration to tailor our approaches to the local culture and vision of our international colleagues. In fact, we have come to realize that throughout this process, we learn as much as we teach.

There are clearly many top-notch institutions with their own models of international health care. They don’t have to imitate us, and, fortunately, we don’t have to imitate them. Best of all, it’s the patients who win.

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