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Why do we need to take an international perspective on healthcare?

Dr Steve Brookes

One of the questions that we are often asked is: 'why do we need to take an international perspective on healthcare?' One key reason is that $7.2 trillion or 10% of global GDP is spent on healthcare. What other industry can claim 10% of GDP? Healthcare is arguably the biggest industry in the world. In this article, Dr Stephen Brookes, Senior Fellow in Public Leadership explores the complexities of international leadership challenges.

During the process of developing our MSc in International Healthcare Leadership, we have travelled the world and had the privilege of seeing and discussing the challenges that face healthcare leaders in all global regions. What's more, we have learned just as much from our participants from around the world who have joined the programme since its initial launch in Singapore in March 2017. We now have almost 100 active candidates studying across the University of Manchester Worldwide's global locations.

Our cohorts include clinicians at all levels – from recently appointed managers and leaders through to senior clinicians and consultants. In addition, we are privileged to have a wide range of managers and leaders, allied health professionals (including pharmacists, geneticists and speech therapists), not to mention some participants from outside the sector who wish to make an impact on global healthcare. These include a banker from Singapore and an engineer from the Middle East who recently took up a presidential role in a large specialist engineering company in the US.

Do you want to broaden your horizons and take a much wider view of the challenges presented to your healthcare leadership colleagues around the world?

Commonalities exist across global healthcare systems, despite differences relating to culture, governance and commissioner/provider relationships. Our unique programme offers a new pedagogical approach to cutting-edge blended learning that enables busy healthcare professionals to work 'at their own pace and in their own place' and, just as importantly, to apply the learning and practice within their healthcare systems and organisations.

During the development and, more recently, implementation of our international healthcare leadership programme, we have been able to confirm the strength behind four golden threads that provide a unique opportunity for healthcare leaders to take an adaptive, engaging and applied approach to developing their leadership capacity and capability. These golden threads also encourage sharing best practice through increased international awareness, networking and creative application.

Our first golden thread – the main theme of our discussion here – is to take that international perspective. This is then supported through the consistent trend of networked leadership development: the need to lead through networks as opposed to a single-minded focus on leading through the line. The third golden thread is that of creativity and innovation: one of the key challenges facing healthcare organisations and systems across the globe.  Practice and public policy require creative and innovative leadership in responding to the challenges of balancing cost, quality, and access. The fourth but most important golden thread is that of putting patients at the heart of healthcare delivery and leadership. Many would argue that this should be a ‘given’, but this is often not the case and greater priority is required to ensure that healthcare resources focus on both patient and public interests.

As healthcare leaders across the globe are facing constant and ever-growing demands across an increasingly multifaceted healthcare system, we have identified four key global leadership challenges that exist in all healthcare systems.

The first is ensuring that everyone has access to different levels of healthcare in a timely, cost-effective and seamless manner. The World Healthcare Organisation describes access to healthcare as a fundamental human right. Experience shows, however, that inequality in terms of access exists in all healthcare systems.

The second global healthcare leadership challenge is to give prevention as much priority as treatment. Recognising long-term benefits from long-term investment in the preventative agenda has an evidence-based history of impact. We have seen some healthcare systems in different global regions that have a demonstrable approach to prioritising prevention. Often value-driven, leaders within these healthcare systems are clearly engaged with the preventative agenda and their passion often shines through. What we need, is a health system and not an illness system.

The third global leadership challenge is to integrate healthcare across a range of public, private and hybrid systems. This applies whether you are a manager or a leader in a predominately public sector healthcare system, such as the National Health System in the UK, or whether you work within a predominantly private healthcare sector, which are dominant in some regions across the world. Te need for health policy and strategies to ensure that national healthcare resources reflect the appropriate balance between excellence in healthcare delivery while  ‘balancing the books' is absolutely essential.

A fourth and final global leadership challenge is that of integrating care across diverse primary, secondary and tertiary providers. These three sectors exist in all healthcare systems, but in different shapes and sizes. Primary care, for example, plays a leading role in some healthcare systems, such as in the UK NHS through Clinical Commissioning Groups. In other regions, primary care is less visibly evident and not particularly well integrated with secondary and tertiary care.

What is the challenge for international healthcare leaders?

First is to be open to and receptive of sharing best practice. We need to move away from the traditional egotistic position in which the sharing of good practice is hindered by the concept of 'not-invented-here' syndrome and more towards an approach which 'borrows with pride', but within the context of adapting best practice to both local and regional healthcare systems. Collective leadership is the key to unlocking this: healthcare leadership can be supported through a virtuous cycle which draws together management and governance. We need to focus on doing things right:  the right things – by the right people – in the right way – for the right people and in the right places.

So, are you ready to take this international leadership learning journey? Our programme starts with you as a leader and takes you through a journey which concludes with an appreciation and understanding of the wider global context of healthcare. We bring leadership development and leadership practice together in a seamless process of transformation. There are many pseudo-transformational leaders, but very few actually practice this in reality.

We take you on a route along the road to empowerment and engagement. Come and join us on this journey.

Find out more about the MSc International Healthcare Leadership here >>