News & Insights

25 Sep 2017

What Happens When The World Catches Up To U.S. Hospitals?

By John Foley

The global healthcare landscape is evolving rapidly. That means change for U.S. providers.

The future of U.S. healthcare is best described as uncertain. The politicized attempts at reform have failed. Unless the conversation becomes less partisan a sustainable model is unlikely to emerge. Paradoxically, this uncertain context has tangible implications for hospitals in the United States.

While the U.S. debated reform, other countries invested in their healthcare infrastructure. As a result, many of them are becoming viable alternatives to U.S. hospitals. This could affect the number of international patients coming to the United States. And it could mean more Americans looking overseas for some of their own healthcare needs.

Destination Medicine: The Domino Effect

Destination medicine is when patients seek necessary medical treatment outside their home country. It is not the same thing as medical tourism. With medical tourism, treatment tends to be elective and there is rarely a medical reason for it.

The United States has always been a popular destination for international patients. This is especially the case for patients from Latin America and the Caribbean. But now, countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Chile offer another option. They have developed systems that offer comparable technology and infrastructure.

They also compete favorably in other aspects. Often they match or outperform their American counterparts in:

In 2015, international patients spent upwards of US$3.5 billion in the United States. That is according to the US Cooperative for International Patient Programs (USCIPP). That revenue could shrink if international patients start turning to other destinations.  

There is an obvious domino effect to that. When hospitals bring in less revenue, they have less to reinvest. Research, new technology and day-to-day patient care could all be negatively impacted. And the patients most affected in this case will be Americans. Unless they too begin looking overseas.

Creativity and Innovation Lead To Competitive Advantage

It can be easy to view creativity and innovation as disruptive forces. They provoke change, which is by nature disruptive. But for hospitals in the United States, those changes will be crucial. Creative thinking and innovation is the path to maintaining a competitive advantage.

Technological innovation is particularly important. Digital tools can radically transform the patient experience from diagnosis to recovery. To say nothing of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality. Those tools will redefine how hospitals manage patient information and care, and it’s probably going to happen sooner than we expect it to.

Hospitals that take a bold and innovative approach will compete best internationally.

Join The Push Toward Prevention

Not every hospital in the country will turn into a cutting edge medical center overnight. What they can do is join the push towards a more prevention oriented health care model. Today, part of the pressure on hospitals comes from treatment of preventable conditions or conditions that could have been treated earlier by a primary care physician.

Pharmaceuticals are another example. Many Americans take medication for conditions that they could manage with behavioral changes. But behavioral changes aren’t always easy to make. They are even harder to sustain.

Hospitals can play a role with their employees and in the communities they serve. In Louisiana, Ochsner Health System has had success. They have incentivized their employees to make healthier choices while at work.

Every hospital can make a similar effort to encourage wellness in their community. Doing so could help reduce the strain on their resources. That could make all the difference. At least until U.S. healthcare reform catches up to this changing global health landscape.

John Foley is President of Pan-American Life’s U.S. Group Business. He is based in New Orleans, Louisiana.