North American healthcare organizations have become incredibly proficient at integrating their networks—within a state, region or country. But global integration has remained a pipe dream. Until now.
Today, the Cleveland Clinic is well on its way to developing a globally integrated healthcare system. With dozens of facilities in our network, we have connected our operations in Canada and Abu Dhabi with our facilities across Florida, Las Vegas and northeast Ohio. And we are sharing patients in much the same manner as an integrated healthcare system within a city.
Other systems will surely follow. All the requisite tools—economically and technologically—are now within the reach of our nation's leading healthcare organizations, enabling us to provide the right care, at the right place, at the right time. Worldwide.
While some patients abroad will still travel thousands of miles to receive care, demand is increasing for better-quality care closer to home. But citizens of the world are responding positively to the notion that distance healthcare from providers known for clinical excellence can be available through locally affiliated hospitals.
While North American institutions have regularly partnered with governments and healthcare organizations in other parts of the world, none, until now, has seriously attempted to establish a seamlessly integrated healthcare system outside of its home continent. The reason is simple: The challenges are uncharted. Opening facilities on other continents can be difficult. Integrating them into a complex system and tailoring them to the local needs and culture are equally challenging. To pursue such a mission, an organization must overcome a series of roadblocks to establish a well-functioning network everywhere it operates.
Other industries—including manufacturing, hotels, law firms and consultancies—have figured out how to coordinate effectively across long distances. Why not healthcare?
Expanding internationally requires an understanding of new and complex areas. Cultural adaptation is key, as doctors and staff must familiarize themselves with native languages and customs. Hires must be made with extraordinary care and should always include strong local community representation.
In some markets, laws and requirements often differ significantly from those of the country of origin. Also, the increased use of electronic health records can raise confidentiality concerns. Thus, a thorough analysis of the legal and regulatory environment is paramount in making the decision to locate in certain countries.
Over the five years of planning for our international expansion, we closely examined the operations of other multinational organizations, especially mission-critical entities in shipping, transportation, information technology and energy. That enabled us to hone best practices that would ensure a much smoother integration.
We also relied on strategic alliances. Finding the right partner, who brought innate local knowledge and a like-minded vision, helped us navigate the unfamiliar and ensured our organization was able to integrate into the community.
Long-distance collaboration also means patients remain closer to home, where they can be sustained by their families and support systems, comforted by the familiarity of their day-to-day routine.
Physicians can efficiently see more patients through easy access to videoconferencing and EHRs. This eliminates sometimes lengthy delays in assessing, diagnosing and treating patients, ensuring a higher probability of successful outcomes. These and other advanced technologies make international integration increasingly cost-effective.
Further, establishing an integrated presence in another market presents medical practitioners with new opportunities for professional and personal growth, including the ability to take on medical challenges that may differ from those in their home country. Plus, establishing a presence internationally opens up new windows of opportunity for revenue growth.
Perhaps most importantly, the communities that host these new facilities are finding that partnering with a prestigious medical institution provides added knowledge, resources and insights that improve the health and societal well-being of the region.
Globally integrated healthcare systems can work. Challenges can be overcome with thoughtful, methodical and precise planning, testing and implementation. And the results can be spectacular.