The Impact of COVID-19 on Global Healthcare

The impact of COVID-19 on global health
Heitham Hassoun, VP & Medical Director, Cedars-Sinai International

Heitham Hassoun, VP & Medical Director, Cedars-Sinai International

It was recently my pleasure to host a conversation with trusted colleagues during a virtual session of the US Cooperative for International Patient Programs (USCIPP). The panelists were three giants in the field of global healthcare: Mohan Chellappa, Ruthy Khawaja and Steve Thompson.

This was a welcome occasion. Like you, perhaps, I hadn't been seeing enough of my colleagues and friends. I'd also been planning to start a blog, and the panel's wisdom and experience gave me the framework for this inaugural post of Cedars Global. Most importantly, their insights into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the possibilities it is creating, brought our audience some much-needed encouragement.

Ruthy, Mohan and Steve were inspiring. They reminded us that for all its local challenges, healthcare is ultimately global, about people and their wellbeing, and that professionals across our field are driven by a passion for service and a determination to make the world a better place.

The challenges we face today are formidable. However, we have a North Star to guide us: People come first. We are called to build relationships and systems that are authentically patient-centered. That was the standard at Johns Hopkins Medicine, where I served as global medical director, and it is what drew me to Cedars-Sinai, a young and dynamic academic medical center in Los Angeles, beaming with sunshine and talent and hope. What an amazing global city!

Among its many impacts, the pandemic has placed healthcare systems center stage in the global conversation and created heightened visibility for systemic strengths and vulnerabilities.

"There is a growing awareness that the health and wellbeing of people across the world depend on systems that are at once essential and fragile."

This awareness has created a uniquely dynamic moment. Stakeholders at all levels are receptive to change. Governments and investors are open to increasing healthcare spending and exploring new, multilevel delivery strategies. There is interest in building bridges between healthcare delivery and public health. The global opportunities for collaboration are robust.

Moreover, the world is looking to healthcare institutions to lead the way. We have a rare opportunity to reimagine the key dimensions of global healthcare—to rethink models of care, supply chain management, training and workforce development, business models and the critical importance of objective accreditation, to name a few. 

If the first step is to recognize opportunity, the next step is to seize it. On that count, our panel was emphatic: Success will depend on our willingness and ability to build strong partnerships. This requires us to establish clear objectives, manage expectations, seek the buy-in of local physicians and administrators—and we have to be wholeheartedly committed to the endeavor. We have to have skin in the game. 

Crucially, we must find strategic alignment with our clients—partners going in different directions are unlikely to arrive in the same place.

One more piece to our partnerships: We must take care to deliver results that last. When a project is completed, the client should have in place the right people, resources, infrastructure and networks to serve their communities safely and effectively in an affordable, sustainable fashion.

It goes without saying that it will be difficult to make fundamental changes to the ways we conceive and support health and wellbeing. If we are to take full advantage of this moment, we must earnestly and sincerely challenge our prevailing assumptions.

Are interconnected global healthcare systems simply too vulnerable to disruption? Should we be thinking in terms of partnerships that have more of a local focus? How do we anticipate new markets? Can we pivot from traditional, illness-based models with a brick-and-mortar focus toward population health strategies that support wellness? How do we design novel business models that generate revenue streams in new ways? Will we have the vision and courage to build partnerships that find value in things beyond revenue?

The world is going through a profound transformation, one we are all struggling to comprehend. Healthcare, whether you perceive it locally or globally, is at an inflection point. The wellbeing of nations and the future of our profession depend on the choices we make in the coming months and years ahead.

Thank you sincerely for reading this first posting. More to come.

More on the International Patient program at Cedars-Sinai