Globalization: Get Over It

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , May 20, 2008

Three words for those worried about the recent prediction medical travel will siphon billions of dollars from the U.S. healthcare system: Get over it.

I’m not one fond of hyperbole, but those who say the U.S. system is in crisis aren’t too far off the mark. With soaring costs and an utter lack of price transparency, it’s no wonder why the U.S. has 47 million people who cannot afford or choose not to purchase health insurance.

Can you really blame global hospitals and industry analysts for considering American healthcare consumers as the next best opportunity for medical travel’s growth?

Now, as I pointed out in a recent column, there are significant barriers between Americans who need access to affordable healthcare and non-U.S. providers. But, employers are getting serious about exploring ways to bring the cost of care down, and their demands can remove the greatest obstacle for would-be medical travelers by creating employer-sponsored and insured medical travel.

Not everyone is convinced that this will happen, but Dan Snyder, ParkwayHealth’s group executive vice president and group chief operating officer, says it’s a matter of time.

“I think as insurance companies in the U.S. think about how to work with employers to manage the cost of care and premiums and out of pocket costs,” Snyder said to me at a recent Global Healthcare Summit. “If that happens, and I think it will, we just want to be in a position to ensure that the continuity of care of the patient is something that we are all proud of. And that’s going to take teamwork between U.S.-based providers and overseas providers like Parkway.”

Whether or not this level of access occurs in the next few years won’t impact Parkway’s immediate growth projections; for instance the system is building a 600-bed hospital in northern India and adding another hospital in Singapore. “We’re building new hospitals in every division that we operate,” says Snyder. “Each of those four divisions has specific growth objectives just to keep up with population growth and maintain market share.”

For systems, like ParkwayHealth, that are truly international, opportunities and threats advance on multiple fronts and across many borders. The development of Middle East healthcare systems could be perceived as a threat that retains a very large patient population to that part of the world. At the same time, surging economies across Asia can be considered an opportunity by creating a new middle class that seeks better healthcare options. And, of course, there is the potential opportunity in the U.S. that perhaps gets more attention than it is due.

But still open for debate is whether the U.S. healthcare industry—unquestionably the finest in the world—will collaborate with global hospitals to provide a continuity of care, the way Snyder describes, or find new ways to compete to keep patients from traveling for medical care.

ParkwayHealth is betting on the former, because as Snyder points out, the latter would take significant political will and fundamental change to America’s health system.

“Globalization is happening,” he says. “All you have to do is get on a plane and go to Asia to figure out that the balance of power, the balance of economics is changing. And the United States cannot just do nothing anymore because doing nothing means the U.S. will be uncompetitive in the global marketplace.”

The time is now for American healthcare executives and providers to get over the fact that patients have new options, and insurers and employers are exploring partnerships with international providers as one solution to contain costs. And instead the focus must be on whether this movement creates opportunities to collaborate or competitors that must be overmatched.

Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at
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