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Cross-cultural partnerships add value to international care

July 05, 2024 Posted in: Leadership
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By Mario Gonzalez, RN, BSN, MSCRN, Clinical Nurse Manager of International Operations at CommonSpirit Health, and Roger Maldonado Gallegos, Director of Business Development for International Services at CommonSpirit Health

 

The International Services program helps patients from around the world access leading-edge care at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, but that doesn’t always necessitate traveling to Houston. We foster relationships with health systems and clinicians in a growing list of countries that, when appropriate, allow patients to remain in their home country to receive care.

By foregoing a medical trip to the U.S. patients enjoy a variety of benefits, including:

  • Access to local health care infrastructure and resources, including language support

  • A reduced financial burden from eschewing costs associated with travel, accommodations and medical care abroad

  • Continuity of care that comes from seeing local physicians who may be more familiar with their medical history

  • Cultural familiarity that can enhance comfort and compliance with treatment plans

  • Familial and social support that may be readily available nearby and can nurture patients’ emotional well-being and the recovery process

 

Overall, allowing patients to stay in their home country when appropriate promotes patient-centered care, improves accessibility and enhances satisfaction with the health care experience.

Flourishing Collaborations

Through representatives in Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador; and Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico, BSLMC fosters relationships with local medical societies, physicians and civic groups, as well as public and private hospitals. Those relationships led to the establishment of monthly breast cancer and uro-oncology tumor boards hosted by the International Services program. During these meetings, local physicians from public and private health care centers in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico present complex cases to BSLMC clinicians to discuss treatments and how to achieve optimal outcomes.

The remote second opinion program allows physicians in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru to request detailed second medical opinions from BSLMC specialists. As a result, patients and their physicians can carefully weigh their options and choose the best path forward—whether that means remaining in their home country for treatment or traveling to BSLMC for care, as was the case for Ecuadorian patient Francisco Laso, who needed a craniotomy to remove a brain abscess.

The relationships we’ve built in the International Services program have led to exciting cross-cultural exchanges, including:

  • Clinical rotations and physician exchange programs

  • Exchanges of clinical educational information with foreign institutions and societies to benefit communities abroad

  • Organization of and participation in international medical symposia

 

Candidates for In-Country Care

Patients who are candidates to stay in their home country for care instead of traveling to Houston include those who require specialized but not highly complex medical treatments. Such treatments could involve routine surgeries, ongoing management of chronic conditions or follow-up care after initial treatment.

To determine the best path for each patient, the International Services program facilitates collaboration between the patient and local and BSLMC clinicians. They conduct a comprehensive assessment of the severity and complexity of the patient’s condition, the availability of appropriate medical expertise and resources locally, the patient’s preferences and comfort level with traveling abroad, and logistical considerations, such as cost and accessibility. The team ensures the chosen approach aligns with the patient’s needs and circumstances.

Treatment at Home Guided by Expertise From Abroad

For patients who don’t need to seek care in the U.S., BSLMC clinicians provide expertise, guidance and oversight remotely to the local health care team. Doing so involves asking physicians to review medical records, interpreting diagnostic tests, offering treatment recommendations and providing ongoing support throughout the care process.

The International Services program connects patients and BSLMC clinicians through remote consultations, such as the remote second opinion program, secure communication channels and collaborative care coordination tools. These technologies enable real-time communication and information exchange between patients’ local physicians and BSLMC specialists, ensuring effective collaboration and optimal patient care despite geographic barriers.

Expanding Our International Footprint

The International Services program is growing to meet rising demand for BSLMC’s world-class care. An important region of focus for the program is Central America.

We continue to expand our relationships with the medical community and medical societies in Guatemala and Costa Rica, and we’re working to grow our remote second opinion program in those countries as well as Honduras. We aren’t stopping there, though. Over time, we envision patients from all over the world having access to BSLMC medical recommendations, treatments and remote second opinions close to their homes, and only traveling to Houston for medical care when it’s necessary and appropriate.

A Model for Equitable, Patient-Centered Health Care

The International Services program’s international collaborations offer a model for improving health care accessibility and equity globally. By leveraging partnerships with local clinicians, we extend specialized care to patients in their home countries, reducing the need for costly and disruptive travel. This approach not only enhances patient outcomes but also fosters sustainable health care systems and strengthens global care networks. Our program is a testament to the power of collaboration in addressing health care disparities and advancing patient-centered care on a global scale.

Additionally, these collaborations highlight the importance of cultural competence and sensitivity in health care delivery. By working closely with local health care teams, we ensure clinicians provide care in the context of patients’ cultural beliefs, preferences and values. This care fosters trust and rapport between patients and clinicians, ultimately leading to better treatment adherence and outcomes.

Building international partnerships creates opportunities for knowledge exchange and capacity building, benefiting both local health care systems and our own institution. Through shared learning and training initiatives, we can strengthen clinical expertise, enhance infrastructure and promote best practices in care delivery.

We’re committed to advancing health care excellence and access worldwide. By embracing a collaborative and patient-centered approach, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients and communities around the globe.

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