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Patient-First Practices: A Strategic Approach to International Healthcare

Opinion
Article

A substantial reduction in claim costs can be persuasive and attention-grabbing, but without assurances of continuity of care and proper clinical oversight, the ultimate goal of positive patient health outcomes can be elusive — and costly.

Mike Agostino, R.Ph., CEO of Network Advanced Specialty Healthcare

Mike Agostino, R.Ph., CEO of Network Advanced Specialty Healthcare

In a world of rapidly evolving healthcare options and ever-rising costs, the so-called “medical tourism” industry is gaining momentum among individuals and self-insured employer groups who are looking to prioritize both physical and financial health. While the allure of more affordable treatments attracts patients, there are several aspects of what has traditionally been offered through this model that must be addressed for it to be a safe, sustainable healthcare option. As with all high-quality care, it comes down to patient centricity, and particularly 1) continuity of care and 2) proper clinical oversight.

Continuity of care

One of the primary challenges faced by patients traveling aboard for healthcare services is the potential disruption in their continuum of care. Patients often travel great distances to access specialized treatments, surgeries or medications, only to find themselves in an unfamiliar healthcare environment without a seamless transition of medical information from their home country to the destination facility. This lack of coordination can result in fragmented care, compromised patient safety and hindered recovery.

To address this issue, it’s imperative that companies facilitating healthcare abroad follow the patient and enable communication between all stakeholders throughout the entire patient journey. Healthcare providers must utilize a robust patient information management system as part of a larger process that ensures treating physicians at the destination have comprehensive insights into the patient's medical history, pre-existing conditions and ongoing treatments. Dedicated on-the-ground care coordination can also help ensure patients feel at ease while getting the information and care that they need. These processes bridge the gap between providers in the U.S. and those abroad, fostering a more cohesive approach to patient care.

Clinical expertise

Properly licensed and experienced clinical oversight is another crucial aspect of rewriting the sometimes toxic narrative surrounding “medical tourism.” It is imperative to thoroughly vet prospective partners, looking for the hallmarks of truly exceptional care. For example, have these physicians earned the proper licensures and certifications in their home countries? What about the healthcare facilities that are used abroad – do they carry the industry-standard accreditations, in their countries and on the international level? How are they rated in the specific areas in which they are being utilized for treatment — for example, surgical procedures?

Additionally, there’s the crucial matter of internal clinical governance. Those offering services in another country should lean on a highly respected, U.S.-trained group of physician advisors. Members of this group should include physicians with a variety of expertise, most importantly those areas of medical services offered by the company. They should oversee all areas of medical care, including the selection and oversight of physicians, patient service protocols, and pre-operative and post-operative clinical pathways.

Moving forward

These are all questions that employers and employees should ask before placing their trust in a healthcare company that offers a model for offering healthcare abroad. A substantial reduction in claim costs can be persuasive and certainly attention-grabbing, but without assurances of continuity of care and proper clinical oversight, the ultimate goal of positive patient health outcomes can be elusive — and costly. By thoughtfully addressing challenges such as fragmented care and prioritizing stringent clinical governance, businesses and their workforces can navigate the future of international healthcare with confidence, choosing partners that offer a reliable solution in the pursuit of quality healthcare.

Mike Agostino, R.Ph., is CEO of Network of Advanced Specialty Healthcare.

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