Medical Staff Pulse Newsletter

International Program Aims to Expand Its Reach


Heitham Hassoun, MD

Cedars-Sinai serves about 2,000 international patients from more than 80 countries each year, coordinating their care, guiding them through the complexities of health insurance and providing translation services in dozens of languages, among other assistance. Now the International Health and Telemedicine Program is seeking to expand its reach in several world regions.

The growth of the program is propelled by Heitham Hassoun, MD, vice president and medical director of the program. To mark his one-year anniversary at Cedars-Sinai, Hassoun sat down with The Bridge to discuss global health challenges, the future of international medicine and what he loves most about his job.

Q: What is the mission of the International Health and Telemedicine Program at Cedars-Sinai?

A: Our mission is essentially a global reflection of Cedars-Sinai's mission, vision and values. We're focused on the wellbeing of all people, regardless of race, religion, culture, or economic or social backgrounds. Cedars-Sinai is known for bringing leading-edge, patient-centered care to our local population, but we also want to extend that care nationally and internationally. We're also very focused on collaborations that can help raise the standard of healthcare throughout the world.

Q: What countries or regions of the world do we serve?

A: We treat a great deal of patients from our border countries—Mexico and Canada—and others from China. We also see growing numbers of patients from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Q: You have created a five-year strategic plan for International Health. Can you share the main priorities of your plan?

A: Our strategic goal is to grow our international patient volumes. We also want to develop new services and products for international patients and have our experts engage in international collaborations to improve healthcare around the world. I think that's an added benefit of working at a place like Cedars-Sinai that enjoys an abundance of talented medical professionals. Cedars-Sinai tackles some of the most complicated care anywhere. We're seen as leaders in healthcare, and we want to expand access to that excellence to global populations.

Q: How is the global healthcare business changing, and how do you see Cedars-Sinai fitting into that picture in the future? What trends are we seeing in international health?

A: We are seeing a growing global burden of chronic diseases in areas such as heart, vascular and cancer. This is applying pressure on all countries to provide the drugs, the know-how and ultimately a different kind of care than what would have sufficed in the past. In this digital age, consumers are more knowledgeable through the internet, so there's a higher level of expectation to receive high-tech and high-touch treatments. Patients know what exists beyond what their local governments and communities may be able to provide, and they want to receive the best care possible.

At Cedars-Sinai, we want to be able to provide that leading-edge care but also engage in international partnerships that foster greater access in other countries so that patients don't necessarily have to leave home to receive the type of sophisticated treatments they want and need.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?

A: I'm a surgeon-scientist and I had never planned to become a global healthcare administrator or leader, but I feel fortunate that these doors opened and that I took them early in my career. What I love most is that I can do all the things that I'm passionate about—first and foremost, take care of people and patients. That's what we're about, and as a doctor that's what I feel is my primary focus. I have learned that I really also enjoy the business side of medicine, and international health is on the front end of this specialty.

I'm from a Lebanese immigrant family, but I was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up as an American expat. My father worked in Saudi Arabia in the '70s and '80s. For me, it brings all my work at Cedars-Sinai into a global context. That's what I love about my job.