By Nicole J. Rosson, M.H.A., and Heitham T. Hassoun, M.D.

Over the past 20 years, leading academic medical centers and specialty care hospitals in the United States have entered into the global collaborative health care market. They care for international patients who travel to their institutions for medical treatment, which often is not available or readily accessible at home. Many also offer consulting services, manage health care facilities abroad, and establish joint ventures and wholly owned entities in other countries.

These activities have numerous positives, including improving the health of thousands of people, increasing collaboration in research and education, and boosting hospitals’ bottom lines.

But as COVID-19 is rapidly changing the world around us in innumerable ways, U.S. organizations that participate in global collaborative health care are getting hit twice as hard, and most of this important work has come to a standstill.

The coming months ― perhaps years ― will be challenging for organizations involved with global collaborative health. U.S. hospitals have seen their international patient volumes plummet over the past two months due to travel restrictions, and it likely will take time for people to travel willingly once these measures are lifted.

Additionally, health care professionals who participate in knowledge transfer may be reluctant or unable to travel to conduct on-site consulting, assessments, clinical rotations, observerships, workshops and conferences.

For some organizations engaged in international patient care or collaboration, it may be necessary to redeploy, furlough or lay off staff or to reduce non-labor expenses. Others may be forced to suspend or cease international collaborations all together as they focus solely on essential or domestic operations.

Many hospitals ― particularly those with major investments outside the United States ― are assessing how best to position themselves to survive the pandemic and hit the ground running when travel and hospital operations return to a certain level of normalcy.

Here are six things to do to keep global health collaborations moving forward while COVID-19 slows business as usual.

Rethink Your Strategy and Services
Review and refresh your strategy, tactics and service offerings, particularly if you’ve been doing this work for many years. Even before the global pandemic, health care delivery was changing rapidly and embracing new technologies. Now is the time to redesign facilities and processes for patient-centricity, to eliminate waste in the care paradigm, and to adopt other innovative initiatives proven to improve health care across systems and borders.

Assess Your Delivery Models
While in-person interactions will remain the modality of choice, the pandemic has broken down barriers that have long stymied telehealth and the remote delivery of consulting and education services. Government leaders and industry regulators are now supporting the needed infrastructure, including legal and reimbursement mechanisms, to support the e-delivery of services. In light of these new possibilities, assess and expand your delivery models.

Identify New Markets and Operations Models
The global health care market is constantly evolving. Take the opportunity to assess new needs and demands that are emerging in the competitive landscape. Pre-COVID-19, there was a global trend of nontraditional players engaging in the health care industry, which had the potential to both support and suppress incumbents’ efforts to grow revenue. Assess potential threats and identify opportunities for engaging these newcomers. These entrants may also create opportunities for new types of public-private partnerships and other financing models.

Understand Current and Future Patients
Although many hospitals routinely conduct patient satisfaction surveys, it’s an ideal time to dig into the data or follow up directly with past patients to gain an understanding of their overall experiences and identify opportunities for improvement. Explore lost leads, including individuals who opted to receive care elsewhere or missed business development opportunities.

Refresh Your Marketing Materials
Your organization’s website is often where patients first learn about your brand and see what services you offer. Does your website allow you to put your best foot forward, or does it need a redesign? Does your marketing collateral meet your needs, or have you been “making do”? This could be a great opportunity to refresh the impression you’re making.

Embrace Improvement
Turn inward and assess internal operations. What can you change to improve efficiency and resource utilization? Increase patient, client and employee satisfaction? Better position your company?

The health care landscape will continue to shift, even after we get through this pandemic. One thing that will remain constant is the demand for high-quality health care. Patients will continue to require complex clinical care and innovative treatments that are unavailable in their home countries, and health systems and countries will still seek support to establish new clinical programs, improve efficiencies and enhance the level or quality of care. These needs will continue to create opportunities for U.S. hospitals to collaborate with affiliates around the world to improve health and health care on a global scale.

Nicole J. Rosson is a director of Global Services at Johns Hopkins Medicine International (JHI).

Heitham T. Hassoun is the vice president and medical director, international at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and formerly the medical director of Global Services at JHI. 

A version of this piece originally appeared in the May 10, 2020, issue of Healthcare Business Today.

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