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Global Health Care Standards and China

by Fred Fortin

In a recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Seung Ho Park and Wilfried R. Vonhonacker argue that

“To succeed in China, multinational corporations must turn the aphorism ‘think global, but act local’ on its head. Although they have to master the art of local operation, their behavior must match their global standards, as expected by the Chinese. . . Beijing has been looking to (multinational corporations) to set global standards in China — a particularly important contribution at this stage in the development of the country’s economy.”

While the authors were not talking about health care per say, I found the message being conveyed clearly something to be considered by those involved in China’s health care reform efforts: specifically, by those from the international community now trying to help China address some of its most pressing health care problems. What the Review authors suggest is that, while compromises may have to be made, the expectations of the Chinese people are not simply to make do. There are growing public aspirations that China’s time has come for its people to have full access to the benefits of the modern world. For better or for worse, foreign helpers carry the burden of representing that world to a struggling population desperately seeking entry.

And these aspirations certainly include health care.The public frustration in China with health care is palpable and its temperament volatile as demonstrated by continued outbursts of violence and threats against medical workers. For foreign companies or health-related NGOs, difficult issues arise around what people do when the situation on the ground is drastically different than the standards of health care patients believe they deserve or, in the case foreign health care organizations, what they may be accustomed to in their home country.

The Review authors believe foreign companies should be responsive to local sensibilities, but act according to global standards. In health care, that is a very difficult, but very necessary, challenge. Global health standards are often mired in cultural, political and scientific controversy despite many serious and well-intentioned international collaborations.

Foreign companies and NGOs in China may also increasingly find themselves in their own Catch 22 as the local expectations surrounding their efforts pale in juxtaposition to media-dramatized health scandals and the intrinsically slow nature of social change. As foreign health care organizations become more deeply involved in direct activities related to health care reform in China, they also become more vulnerable to the political dark side as well and the unsettling tendency at times to vilify international assistance when things go wrong to satisfy domestic politics.

So the course is set, and the travel is known to be dangerous. But there is a tremendous opportunity for discovery on the horizon. Yet, how well we navigate the treacherous currents in between still remains to be seen.

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[…] my complete post over at the World Health Care Blog. Posted in WorldHealthCareBlog, Globalization, China, […]

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