In a demonstration of the increasingly global nature of healthcare issues, quality assurance, mergers and system integration dominated discussion at the 30th biennial International Hospital Federation Congress.
At the Nov. 17-21 conference in Melbourne, Australia, there was almost universal interest in ways to ensure healthcare quality among the more than 1,100 delegates from nearly 50 countries who attended the conference.
For some countries, particularly those in emerging markets, the issue was how to raise the level of quality and how to implement some of the quality assurance techniques many U.S. hospitals now take for granted. For other countries the focus was on how to measure quality and set up meaningful accreditation programs (See story below).
"The people I talk to really have an interest in quality assurance," said Sister Irene Kraus, chairman of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Baptist/St. Vincent's Health System, in an interview with MODERN HEALTHCARE* at the conference. "They want to know how American hospitals measure quality and what we are doing to improve our systems."
The meeting's keynote address, delivered by Lady Julia Cumberlege, former health minister of the United Kingdom, called on healthcare providers to consider patient issues and satisfaction when moving forward with quality initiatives.
Another issue of interest to international hospitals was provider mergers. A number of countries, including Australia, England and Thailand, are experiencing a wave of mergers that are raising questions in local communities.
"We are in the middle of merger madness," said Jean Trainor, deputy director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, London. "In some cases (hospitals) are definitely merging for the wrong reasons. It won't really save money in many cases."
According to Trainor, 16 mergers were announced in England last month. Many are small specialty hospitals, but others are government-imposed mergers of major teaching hospitals, she said.
Other countries, including Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands, are struggling to move rationally to integrated health networks. The Canadian Hospital Association, for example, has changed its name to the Canadian Healthcare Association to reflect a move to integrated networks.
"Our restructuring has been driven by fiscal concerns," said John Baker, chairman of the board of the Canadian Healthcare Association. "There is a feeling that integrated healthcare is the way to deliver care. Things are moving away from hospitals to other points along the continuum of care."
Errol Pickering, director general of the IHF, agreed that many countries are working to "rationalize" their systems of care.
The conference marked the 50th anniversary of the IHF, which was created from the remains of a previous international hospital group that disbanded during World War II.