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At the May 24 International Healthcare Conference, keynote speaker Karen H. Timmons '82, president and CEO of Joint Commission International, said humility and collaboration are key to improving worldwide healthcare standards.

Collaborating to save lives and resources

International Healthcare Conference highlights strategies for raising global standards for care

By Romi Herron

5/24/2006 -  In some developing countries where alcohol is forbidden, healthcare workers may be ostracized for using alcohol hand wipes as an infection control measure. That cultural belief is just one example of an obstacle Joint Commission International (JCI) has faced in its efforts to provide a framework of global healthcare standards, said Karen H. Timmons ’82, president and CEO of the organization, which is dedicated to improving the quality and safety of healthcare practices around the world.

Timmons and other distinguished leaders shared their expertise on global healthcare challenges during the Kellogg School of Management’s 2nd International Healthcare Conference and 29th Annual MacEachern Lecture, held May 24 at the James L. Allen Center. Timmons delivered the MacEachern lecture.

The event, The (R)Evolution of International Healthcare Systems: The Art and Science of Improving Life, offered an audience of Kellogg faculty, alumni and students a closer look at issues including pharmacoeconomics, natural disaster health management, and corporate philanthropy and social responsibility. The Kellogg School's Health Industry Management program sponsored the daylong conference.

"As leaders in healthcare we need to recognize America’s standards for healthcare cannot be met in some countries,” said Timmons, who with JCI, has assisted countries including France, Poland and the Caribbean to establish their own hospital accreditation system. “Going from a domestic accreditation system to a global one has required collaboration and humility to accept that one way is not the only way.”

As developing countries face epidemics including HIV/AIDS, SARS and the threat of avian flu, the world’s interest in healthcare has grown, she said. But in some regions, standards such as “one patient per bed” are not realistic due to overpopulation and lack of hospital resources. “We have to be sensitive to enormous disparities in healthcare around the world,” said Timmons, a graduate of the Kellogg Part-Time MBA Program.

JCI continues to establish flexible frameworks that respect local laws and culture to improve healthcare practices internationally. Improving communication, medical error reporting, infection control and safety standards for patients and staff are among areas of focus. In some European countries, JCI’s encouragement for hospital administrators, physicians and nurses to employ a team approach to problems has led to significant improvement in practices and outcomes, said Timmons. Healthcare systems internationally are receptive to JCI’s benchmarking system and hold its accreditation in high regard, noted Timmons.

In addition to other conference speakers who addressed topics such as the globalization of healthcare and pharmoeconomics, a panel discussion on philanthropy and social responsibility emphasized the power of collaborative methods. The panelists were Michael Diamond, president of Chicago-based consultancy World Resources; Kevin Callahan, director of global citizenship and policy at Abbott Laboratories; and Jennifer Farrington, director of social investing at Becton Dickinson (BD), a global medical technology company.

Diamond, who previously worked to eradicate polio with The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, noted an example of a straightforward, cost effective measure involved with the dissemination of the polio vaccine in a developing country.

Lack of refrigeration posed increased challenges to bring the polio vaccine to those in need, so the foundation worked with partners to develop a paint that, when applied externally to each vaccine vial, indicated if it had been exposed to temperatures that threatened its viability. The collaboration saved hundreds of millions of dollars, Diamond said, and ensured vaccine vials were not used if exposed to excessive heat.

During the panel, which was moderated by David Messick, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management for the Kellogg School, Callahan said pharmaceutical companies are working to overcome the “tremendous amount of cynicism” consumers have for the industry. Collaboration and the drive for innovation lead to the most promising solutions, he said, but despite philanthropic efforts by pharmas to reach out to developing countries, scaling those efforts to the overwhelming need poses ongoing challenges with funding and government involvement.

Reflecting on her recent efforts with disaster relief in hurricane-impacted regions of the U.S., Farrington said logistical challenges alone pose enough of a need for organizations like BD to work together with providers such as Eli Lilly to transport medical equipment and supplies — such as those needed for diabetes management — during crises.

Also during the event, Dr. Harvey J. Makadon, vice president for health systems at Harvard Medical International, presented a lectured titled, "Globalization of Healthcare: Meeting All Needs.” Dr. Ray Arthur, associate director for global health at the CDC National Center for Infectious Diseases, presented “Management of Public Health Emergencies of International Concern.” Wendy J. Ungar, assistant professor for the University of Toronto, Canada, presented “Using Pharmacoeconomic Evidence to Improve Patient Outcomes.” Concluding the day’s lecture series and sharing his expertise in neurological disorders research and pharmaceutical sales force promotional strategy, Kyo Toda, manager of Japan-based Eisai Co. Ltd., presented "Globalization of Managed Care and Disease Management.”

The Annual MacEachern Lecture honors Dr. Malcolm T. MacEachern, who founded the Kellogg Health Industry Management program in 1943 and pioneered international patient quality standards as well as the frameworks for modern hospital management.