Exporting San Diego’s ‘gold standard’ health care

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July 1, 2017
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Home to one of the most sophisticated healthcare industries in the nation, San Diego holds one of the highest ratings for overall medical care and unique specialties. The city has further consolidated its healthcare leadership with the “Live Well, San Diego” initiative, a 10-year plan to build a healthy, safe and thriving community by educating the public about healthy eating and exercise, and increasing community awareness for access to medical services.

As a plastic surgeon specializing in complex craniofacial surgery, San Diego offers what I consider the “gold standard” of surgical care. We provide surgical and follow-up care from a team of highly trained and specialized healthcare professionals that stem from reputable institutions, including the University of California San Diego

School of Medicine, which continues to produce the next generation of physician scientists. For example, the successful treatment of craniofacial conditions, such as cleft lip and palate repairs, usually require numerous surgeries and extensive follow-up from a team of specialists, including orthodontists, nutritionists and speech therapists. In contrast, the reality of healthcare in many parts of the world is that the demand for specialized care is greater than what the local healthcare systems can supply. According to the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, 4.8 billion people, or 67 percent of the world’s population, are without safe, affordable and timely surgical care. In the poorest countries, nine out of 10 people are without access to basic surgical procedures. As a result, mortality from conditions needing surgery, such as congenital and acquired anomalies, has increased.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made global surgery a public health priority by mandating the surgical community in high-income countries to work alongside low-income country partners to develop broad-based solutions that build sustainable, resilient health systems. One crucial step that has been identified essential to sustainability is training more surgeons in low-income countries. At least 1.27 million new surgeons need to be trained by 2030 to reach a benchmark that correlates with improved population health outcomes. In the specialty of plastic surgery, there is a great imbalance in the distribution of services. For example, there is an estimated one plastic surgeon per 57,000 people in the U.S. in comparison to three plastic surgeons in the entire country of Malawi that has a population of 16.4 million.

In 2010, I founded ConnectMed International, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve access to surgical care and support sustainable healthcare in underserved communities through education, local partnerships and telemedicine.

In comparison to the traditional medical mission model, direct patient care is just one aspect of our work. We focus on strengthening healthcare systems where our patients live and make them sustainable.

Through ConnectMed, we are able to support team care through collaboration with local providers at partner sites abroad where we have the capability to practice the same “gold standard” of surgical care available in San Diego. For example, we provide education, research and training opportunities for trainees at both our partner sites and our San Diego home base. Our efforts provide exposure to surgical cases, conditions and approaches that improve overall professional abilities, as well as opportunities to improve cultural competency.

To further advance our efforts in bringing the “gold standard” of care to other parts of the world, we leverage telemedicine to support follow-up care using a camera, microphone and video screen connected to the internet. Telemedicine enables remote, real time communication between two locations. This technology also allows us to provide educational experiences and virtual surgical training opportunities to trainees from all over the world.

My colleagues at ConnectMed and I believe in equal access to comprehensive, high-quality surgical care, such as that available in San Diego, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic means. Our hope is that San Diegans appreciate the quality of care available to them and feel compelled to support or follow the steps we are taking to create long-term and sustainable healthcare solutions in less fortunate communities. San Diego can show its support toward worldwide healthcare equity by utilizing its richness in resources to support the initiatives of the WHO and pioneering an effort to eliminate disparities in worldwide medical care.