We know what globalization means. Boundaries between countries disappear, giving way to single global markets for labor, manufacturing, finance and service. Money, goods, people, ideas and information mix in unprecedented ways, shaping our lives today and opportunities for tomorrow.

But what does it mean for health care?

When we talk about the globalization of health care, we’re addressing how diseases spread quickly across populations and borders to become pandemics, what steps organizations worldwide are taking to standardize health care delivery to ensure patient safety and best outcomes, or why increasing numbers of caregivers are emigrating for better professional opportunities.

My colleagues and I will cover these topics—emergency medicine, international standards of patient care, connected health care and the globalized health care workforce—and how they reflect the future of health care in upcoming posts.

But the most immediate idea of globalized health care is tourism, when patients travel—sometimes around the world—to receive diagnosis or treatment.

This is not a new concept: In honor of their god of medicine, Asclepius, the ancient Greeks erected the Asclepia Temples, which became some of the world’s first health centers. People from all over traveled to these temples, seeking cures for their ailments.

The international health care marketplace that we recognize today emerged in the late 19th century when patients from less developed parts of the world began to travel to major medical centers in Europe and the United States, including Johns Hopkins, for diagnoses and treatments that were unavailable in their own countries.

This demand for globalization in health care continues today.

Why Patients Travel
Sometimes patients travel for treatments that aren’t offered locally, or that aren’t delivered as well as they are in their country or region. When met with delayed access or high costs, savvy consumers—especially those from growing middle classes in emerging markets—travel to regions where they can receive higher-quality treatment that results in better outcomes.

Providing high-quality health care to international patients with rare or complex conditions is an important part of what we do here at Johns Hopkins. But our vision extends further. As we saw health systems struggle to provide patients with access to the right care, at the right time, while ensuring quality and reasonable costs, we knew we could help. We saw an opportunity to help people receive care close to home by collaborating with organizations to increase and improve health and wellness services in their own communities.

Joining Forces
The model we created 20 years ago also includes collaborations with international affiliates—private health care organizations, insurers, NGOs, government agencies, academic centers and others—to expand and enhance care at the local level.

These collaborations involve developing and managing clinical care programs, offering continuing education and leadership development opportunities to our affiliates’ health care providers and administrators, and fostering research and discovery that will change medicine for generations.

Today we have projects to advance health care in nearly 20 countries on five continents, helping our affiliates increase and improve services in their own countries so patients can receive quality care as close to home as possible.

Health care globalization at its best brings partners together to create comprehensive local solutions. It changes people’s lives, expands hope and opens opportunities. It becomes the promise of medicine.

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