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Keck Medical Center Targets Health Care in China

Keck Medical Center Targets Health Care in China
Patients line up for care at Peking University First Hospital outpatient clinic and urgent care center.

The Keck Medical Center of USC is extending its reach into the Far East.

Hospitals chief executive officer Mitch Creem and other Health Sciences campus leaders are building bridges between the university and medical providers in China, where efforts to modernize the country’s health care system are leading to growing privatization of health care.

“The health care market in China is going through a reformation,” said Creem, who visited Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in October. “There is a growing opportunity for USC to play a vital role in the changing market through private, public, commercial and academic partnerships.”

Creem organized a 10-day trip to coincide with the USC Global Conference, which took place this year in Hong Kong. While overseas, he met with representatives from Fudan University Huashin Hospital, Peking University First Hospital, Shantou Medical University and Changhai Hospital, a teaching hospital of the Second Military Medical University.

“What was truly amazing was how warmly embraced we were by everyone, everywhere we went,” Creem said. “The Chinese people were so receptive to partner with USC, which was well-respected in every circle we traveled.”

Creem said the Chinese particularly were interested in faculty and medical student exchange programs, joint ventures to develop medical facilities and other health care business programs, as well as management training programs, where Keck Medical Center administrators and other USC officials could help train hospital leadership in China.

Early discussions are happening now to develop tailored health management certificate courses – and potentially even degree programs ¬- for interested Chinese leaders.

Hospital administrators are looking to partner with the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the USC Marshall School of Business to make it happen.

“The Chinese have a huge need for professional training in management, health care finance, leadership – all the elements that go into actually running a health provider organization, including hospitals,” said Jack H. Knott, C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean of SPPD. “There is limited professional training in China that provides this kind of professional education.”

With short-course programs, Chinese leadership could earn certificates in a variety of topical fields related to health care management.

Eventually, a USC Master of Health Administration or executive Master of Health Administration degree program also could be offered, with curriculum designed around the cultural, financial and organizational climate of China’s health care market, Knott said.

USC faculty and adjunct faculty would work closely with hospital administrators and physicians to help design the programs, as well as teach in them. They also would collaborate with Chinese universities and health care leaders to create the curriculum.

“The kind of training and education Mitch Creem has, we feel, is the exact kind of training people wanting to and already running hospitals and health care organizations in China need,” Knott said. “This would be a wonderful opportunity for the schools, faculty and the hospitals at USC to collaborate with each other on a joint venture that would be very meaningful to the university and China.”

Creem said the Chinese also were interested in opportunities for Chinese patients and families to travel to the Keck Medical Center for care and respite – a practice commonly referred to as “medical tourism.”

It makes sense, according to Creem and other USC leaders, because of the location of the medical center, which is in close proximity to densely populated Asian communities like Alhambra and Monterey Park, where family ties extend on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

In fact, the demand for medical tourism is so high, Creem and others are preparing to develop a multispecialty international referral program that could help facilitate patient referrals from China and develop and maintain business relationships with Chinese health care providers.

Chief medical officer Don Larsen is working to standardize processes now focused on business development, the operational details of an international patient referral, hospitality for patients and families when they get here and aftercare when they return to China.

Larsen and Creem are looking for Mandarin-speaking staff and physicians who may be interested in serving as liaisons, clinical practitioners and in administrative roles in this new program.

“There are so many outreach efforts happening now,” Larsen said. “Many of our physicians travel internationally and have a strong international presence. It’s a matter of tying all of these efforts together with patient referrals.”

An East-West Alliance

The focus on Chinese relations comes at a significant time for the university as a whole, as it works to create alliances with the Pacific Rim, a top priority under USC president C. L. Max Nikias.

On the Health Sciences campus, Creem is among a large number of leaders traveling to China to help build relationships and improve health care in that country.

Earlier this spring, the USC Institute of Urology, led by founding executive director Inderbir Gill, offered a series of live-surgery symposia to more than 1,800 Chinese urologists. Then, over the summer, Larsen and Chi-Shing Zee, professor of neuroradiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, among other USC physicians, attended the 2011 Oriental Congress of Radiology.

Zee is leading an effort to send USC doctors to China and vice versa. He helped coordinate a visit from 12 Chinese physician leaders to Keck Hospital in September.

“The medical environment in China is very sophisticated from a technological standpoint, but it needs catching up with regard to health care delivery systems,” Larsen said. “The U.S. isn’t a perfect model, but there are things that we can show them to help deliver more efficient care in such a large country.”

For Zee, the learning experience is key.

“Through these exchanges, USC physicians can also learn from Chinese [physicians] – seeing medicine from a different perspective and establishing research collaborations,” he said.

I-Jey Wang, a Keck Hospital nurse who has studied in China, agreed that increased ties could help “enhance our understanding of the Chinese people and improve our care for them. As health care professionals, we could really benefit from culturally based, individualized care.”

There also are opportunities to learn from China’s experiences with managed health care, according to Creem, who highlighted the country’s aggressive approach toward preventive medicine and the use of technology in the home to monitor and record health.

He also emphasized China’s ability to care for its massive population – estimated at 1.3 billion – for less than 4 percent of its gross domestic product. Health expenditures in the United States top 17 percent of the nation’s total economic output.

“These partnerships we are developing are so important for the Keck Medical Center of USC,” Creem said. “Not only will these relationships help us increase our reputation on a global level, but they will also inform our thinking about the services we provide and how we manage our own care.”

Trojans who are interested in participating in an international patient referral program with China, speak Mandarin and/or have had medical training in China can contact Mitch Creem or Don Larsen via email at or

Sara Reeve contributed to this story.

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