When you’re ill, it’s a struggle just to change out of your pajamas or heat up a cup of tea. Going into work is out of the question.

For patients who are critically ill, traveling for care can feel unbearable. Patients would rather receive treatment locally, where they have family support and can recuperate in the comfort of their own home instead of a sterile hospital room.

In a previous post, Pamela started a discussion about Johns Hopkins Medicine International’s role in transforming the concept of medical tourism, travelling to receive diagnosis or treatment. We recognize that local care is better, and so the collaborative health model we created 20 years ago includes global affiliates with whom we work to expand and enhance care in their home countries.

Providing excellent care at the local level improves health and health care globally. Our goal is to work with affiliates to make sure they have the training and resources they need to be self-sufficient. We’ve done our job right when we can hand over the reins to the local experts so patients can get the very best care in their home country.

That said, we do recognize some rare or complex conditions require specialized expertise or technologies that aren’t available locally (at least not yet). Certain patients will have to travel—hundreds or thousands of miles—to get the best care possible, with the best results.

Over the past two decades, we imagined and developed one of the largest U.S. programs for delivering specialized, high-quality care to international patients who must travel for the care they need. Today many other health systems cater to international patients, so patients around the world who need critical care have options.

Choice is certainly good, but international patients must consider many factors when selecting medical care abroad:

What are the clinicians’ areas of expertise? Care providers must have a depth of experience in the patient’s needed clinical specialty area, including regular, first-hand experience with rare and complex conditions. They also should be drawing from the latest research to coordinate and deliver the right care at the right time, in the right setting.

Does the hospital invest in research? Medical research continues to enhance health care by providing important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment, costs and public health campaigns. The information can become the basis for clinical trials that explore the effects of medical interventions, possibly giving new hope to critically ill patients. Investing in research can profoundly change how we treat and even prevent disease. 

Are care teams on the same page? Providers need to work together to determine the best treatments and preventions. When they coordinate up front, they can prevent complications, especially those leading to hospital readmittance.

Does the health system embrace Big Data? Data science is transforming medicine, as well as public health and research. In terms of patient care, doctors benefit from having as much information as possible—about whole populations and individual patients—when deciding what screenings and treatments to recommend. Embracing Big Data in health care helps us develop an individualized approach that delivers better results at a lower cost.

Is patient safety a priority? The safety and well-being of patients should be a hospital’s highest priority. Strong health care teams reduce infection rates, put checks in place to prevent mistakes, and ensure strong lines of communication between hospital staff, patients and families. Caring about patients’ safety means they get the best care—from diagnosis to discharge.

Do staff understand and respect patient diversity? By embracing cultural diversity, health providers can increase patient engagement and education and improve the overall quality of care. This should include tailoring care delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural and language needs.

Certainly there are other important factors patients and their loved ones must consider when choosing an international medical setting. These factors rose to the top of my mind because they are often topics of conversations our staff members have with individuals and families who have chosen to travel to Johns Hopkins for care.

In a crowded marketplace, these are some of the elements we’ve made a priority to ensure patients from Baltimore or from around the world have access to leading-edge care, delivered in a culturally appropriate way.

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