Yvette Torres-Rahman, Director of Partnerships at Business Fights Poverty interviews Terri Bresenham CEO, GE Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, a Business Call to Action member company.
YTR: You recently announced a plan to reach more than two million healthcare professionals worldwide by 2020. In what way are you going to be supporting these healthcare professionals?
TB: We are very committed to this idea of helping to provide more affordable and relevant healthcare systems for a large portion of the population who have little or no access to healthcare. We have a substantial focus on the skills that it takes to deliver quality healthcare; and so our investment in education of doctors, nurses and midwives in many ways remains modest when you look at the whole global expenditure on health care professional education. Africa for example, which is one of our primary markets, is one of the lowest in terms of the availability of trained healthcare professionals, so roughly 1.5 million additional educated healthcare professionals are needed if you look at Africa’s density and healthcare professionals needed per capita.
As an organization we have been doing a lot across different markets in the space of education and skills development. In India, we are one of the key companies on the national skills development council for healthcare. It is a priority for the Indian government as well and we are looking at ways that we can create sustainable educational systems starting from high-school level through to the paraprofessionals and even the experts and the doctors. This means developing content, being able to have partners in the market which provide the training facilities or hands on experiences in healthcare systems, as well as look for ways to continue education - courses, certified or accredited graduation programmes. It helps to ensure that the quality of the delivery of the health care is done with the right skills.
YTR: As part of developing those skills I understand that you are also looking to capture these growing emerging healthcare markets through the development of low-cost technologies.
TB: We are not necessarily trying to replicate the western model of healthcare delivery because we know in many ways it’s too expensive and it doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. What we are looking at is an opportunity to be really disruptively innovative in using technology to do things that haven't been invented before for these emerging economies --different kinds of access points, different levels of skills and being able to extend the ability of the expertise that might be there through channels like telecommunications. But we are not only doing things that we already know how to do, we are taking a clean sheet of paper and really co-creating with the providers in these markets relevant solutions that can operate in these environments, which are low cost but also have a way to improve the outcomes from the patient’s standpoint.
YTR: Have you brought any of these low-cost technologies to market yet?
TB: Yes, we have had a number of recent examples that have exceeded our expectations from a business case.
One of the top reasons people suffer mortality in the world is from trauma, like auto or motorcycle accidents or farming incidences. If you have to travel very far to be seen you are unlikely to make it. We know that computer tomography or CT is one of the most valuable and innovative diagnostic tools for trauma, for heart disease, for many of the cancer detections and yet it is something that still is too expensive for large portions of the population and so we took another look at CT and we came up with a whole new design.
We developed this design with technicians who would be new users of CT to make sure there wouldn’t be any adoption barriers, and ensure they could operate the system with the right quality of information. Starting with the heart of the system, which is the detector itself, we made it far smaller and less expensive, it runs on about half the power so the total cost of ownership and operational cost is about 40% less expensive. The interface is very graphical so someone who doesn’t have the same level of experience can use it. This CT system which can now be put in place in a smaller village can provide quick insight into what's going on in the internal organs and be life saving.
YTR: And looking at the big picture now: what is the business case for say medical practitioners, governments, private operators and investors to deliver affordable care in these emerging economies?
TB: I think it’s the most important question and when it comes to expanding access across the world, it’s inextricably linked to affordability and the skill set that is required to ensure that the quality is there. We also have to provide the care pathways and understanding on how to treat a patient in different areas whether that’s a cardiovascular disease or diabetes or oncology, maternal and infant care for example and also the operational skill and capital structures that it takes to set up a sustainable healthcare model. One thing that is really important when we look at bringing solutions to developing countries is for there to be multiple sets of partners that want to work together. Now NGO communities and companies like ours are very comfortable to come together to ensure that the healthcare network covers the village with basic care needs all the way up to surgery or urgent or even acute care needs where that’s necessary.
When you do that you can build a system that also has what I call microeconomic return because it keeps the incentive across the network at the right level. It’s really what ensures sustainability because it continues to be self-funding along the way and if at any point of the juncture, there's a breakdown in the microeconomics, it will limit or put at risk the system’s ability to sustain itself. That is why we work to make sure that throughout the value chain there’s microeconomics linked to it, ensuring it is much more sustainable.
YTR: Thank you very much, Terri, for joining us today and we would love to hear more when you next bring a new low cost technology to market.
TB: Thank you for covering this topic, Yvette - we feel it’s very important for changing outcomes for people around the world.
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