International healthcare investments speeding up dramatically

As far back as I can remember--to, say, the early 1990s when I first began reporting on the business--people spoke of healthcare as a local business focused on local relationships, even when said local hospital was part of a great big chain. But the last year, and the last couple of months in particular, have begun to suggest that this may be changing. 

Yes, healthcare delivered in the U.S. will continue to turn on local markets and players in much the same way the retail market does. But with medical tourism gradually sending patients overseas, and investors seeing huge opportunities in certain parts of Asia, the nature of those connections is going to change. Given the potential for higher margins overseas, in fact, in five or 10 years foreign facilities may become the tail wagging the tog.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that relationships with doctors will suddenly become less important just because the parent healthcare firm invests in hospitals in Shanghai. But if such international diversification becomes more common, it can't help but, at minimum, change a healthcare executive's perception of where their bread is buttered. While local doctors will still be critical to the success of a given hospital, healthcare execs will certainly be thinking about their hospital as part of a larger portfolio that includes different markets with radically different rules--rather than solely as a building block in their core local strategy.

That being said, it's not all gloom and doom. After all, it's also possible that more-profitable Chinese or Malaysian hospital ventures will be allowed to prop up service lines in the U.S. when execs consider it a good idea. Doctors may have the chance to move to a foreign country owned by their local hospital, and have what could be an extremely enriching personal and professional experience. Ideally, foreign physicians could contribute their own knowledge-set in a manner that boosts care more than any isolated group of American physicians.

The bottom line, however, is that from all signs, the pace of U.S. investment in foreign healthcare systems is about to speed up dramatically. Look for your facility to affected sometime soon. - Anne