Globalization – the universal exchange of money, people, information and ideas – is thought to be one of the most influential forces that is shaping and steering modern day history. Although globalization is not a new phenomenon, its unprecedented reach seems to have an impact on every major field. The need for quality care is a concept that has a universal appeal; so it is not a wonder then that medicine and healthcare have been highly influenced by globalization.
Globalization has not only changed the manner in which healthcare was delivered, but it has also made policy makers rethink healthcare policies. Moreover, the healthcare system has its own unique issues to deal with such as governmental policies, compliance/regulatory requirements, cultural issues and availability of technology.
Although medical tourism is a recent trend in the healthcare industry, it is growing tremendously. Most patients from European countries and America are traveling to other countries to seek medical treatment and care. This transnational movement of patients is attributed to many factors, mainly to the availability of better infrastructure, affordable prices, for treatments not available locally and for treatments not covered by insurance in their countries.
The reason for this burgeoning medical tourism is the disparities in cost, quality and availability across countries. However, when these gaps are addressed, costs controlled and quality parameters upheld, then medical tourism might not be as rampant as it is at present.
According to one of the patient surveys conducted by the Medical Tourism Association, the cost of medical treatment (85%) and state-of-the-art technology (83%) were the most important factors in their decision to travel abroad for treatment.
In 2009, Deloitte predicted that over one and a half million U.S. patients would be traveling abroad for care, with a 35% increase over the next several years.
On the flip side, countries offering these treatments run the risk of creating a second level of care for its patients or hiking medical prices. Medical tourism might also reduce preventive healthcare advances and create the need for sophisticated private clinics to meet the needs of international patients.
Leveraging information technology
Healthcare globalization is eventually going to be about an easy flow of information, services and knowledge across borders. For this to happen, it is essential to leverage the advancements in information technology. Many hospitals and providers are making use of offshore healthcare services such as medical transcription, report writing, claims processing and help desk services.
Major hospitals, these days, are using the services of highly trained radiologists from around the world to read their reports. In addition to this, telemedicine and remote consultation services are also being offered thanks to the advancements in information technology.
Outsourcing healthcare professionals
In addition to the movement of patients across borders, globalization of healthcare is also bringing in international movement of healthcare professionals. The reason for this exportation of healthcare professionals can be attributed to the inconsistencies in demands for healthcare, employment availability, labor costs, educational and training facilities in various countries.
Shortage of medical professionals and nurses is acutely felt in developed countries and this factor is increasing the movement of trained and qualified healthcare professionals. Additionally, medical experts and physicians are regularly traveling to other countries to offer medical care in emergencies and disasters.
Collaboration between healthcare organizations across borders
The future of healthcare lies almost entirely on the collaboration of healthcare organizations across borders. Collaboration between private medical centers, government agencies, pharmaceutical centers, NGOs, educational institutions, investors and stakeholders will help bring reliable, affordable and timely medical help to those in need.
Healthcare is going to see experts lend their knowledge and expertise to help develop medical centers in places where it is most needed. These experts will be able to bring in their knowledge to medical schools and institutions to better train professionals and bring them on par with international medical standards. The future is going to see them bring in new tools, techniques, medicines and procedures to enable improvements in care. They can improve telemedicine facilities and leverage local talent and capabilities.
Combined and coordinated outlook on global health is the need of the hour and the future seems to be heading towards the same. It is essential to have a global healthcare policy that brings in all the stakeholders together to build a consensus on public health issues of the future.
While the benefits of globalization are immense, it certainly comes with its own set of setbacks to deal with. The movement of patients across borders is going to unintentionally transfer diseases between nations. Globalization is also going to make it harder for smaller stakeholder such as NGOs and small businesses to provide help in poor countries. Additionally, globalization might also expand the difference in medical help provided to the rich and poor. Globalization of healthcare will create problems for policy makers as they have to deal with legal and regulatory complications as well. Even though healthcare globalization can create a number of issues, it is certainly changing the healthcare dynamics of the entire world for the better.