The opportunities awaiting UPMC in China

When Randy Jernejcic, MD, heads to China later this year to head UPMC's new 500-bed hospital in Chengdu, it will be more like a second homecoming than an entirely new adventure.

Dr. Jernejcic first traveled to China in 1994 as a medical student and spent the summer at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan. He later returned to China as CMO of Beijing United Family Hospital from 2009 to 2012. He'll take those experiences into his new role as CEO of Chengdu Wanda-UPMC International Hospital, which is set to open in March 2023.

Before heading to China, Dr. Jernejcic will spend six months in Pittsburgh learning about UPMC's culture and inner workings while remotely working on building and developing the team on the ground in China.

"UPMC is an amazing organization, internationally known for its commitment to quality, safety and patient experience," Dr. Jernejcic said. "If we start there and talk about bringing that over to China, we can't go wrong. If we do everything focused on quality, patient safety and patient focus, that is the true guiding star."

One of the challenges Dr. Jernejcic faces in building the new hospital is establishing a vision of high-quality care and delivering on it. The hospital can't be entirely an American hospital or an entirely Chinese hospital but should instead bring the two together.

"China has an amazing healthcare system as it is," Dr. Jernejcic said. "There are some fabulous physicians and nurses, so bringing the two together may not be as hard as one would imagine, because they already start off in a wonderful position. The management infrastructure in UPMC, the connectivity to the excellence of the people driving the vision in Pittsburgh, and having them help us with aligning the teams together and starting to build upon that vision of what is already here will be key for what we're trying to do."

China's lack of primary care infrastructure will make strategic decisions a bit different than in the U.S.

"Primary care as we see it here is the ability to rely on the family physician to help navigate your healthcare," Dr. Jernejcic said. "That is just starting to be recognized in China and is not very strong. Because of that, and a number of other things including the large population, folks tend to go directly to the hospital to get their care in China. That starts to put a whole different pressure from a volume and care perspective on those hospitals because of the lack of the primary care infrastructure."

But he does see key similarities between the two countries: The U.S. and Chinese healthcare systems are ripe with opportunities to deliver higher-value care, create efficiencies and improve quality.

"Both countries are really looking for reform, how to make healthcare more affordable, and how to improve not just the patient sitting in front of you, but the overall population of people we serve," Dr. Jernejcic said. He said he plans to partner with local governments, hospitals and training facilities to become part of the evolving healthcare ecosystem in the region.

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