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Rolling Up Their Sleeves

January 7, 2010 By:
Rachel Levy Lesser, JE Feature
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An Israeli veteran recently underwent a liver transplant in Philadelphia. He stayed in the city for two months, and is now thriving back in his home country.

The operation, paid for by the Israeli military, was made possible by Philadelphia International Medicine.

PIM, a health organization that links patients from around the world to leading physicians and hospitals in Philadelphia, launched in 1998 due in part to dramatic changes in the American health care system.

Looking to preserve health care jobs and facilities, as well as grow the state's economy, then-Gov. Tom Ridge ordered the creation of a task force, challenging them with ways to more efficiently utilize Philadelphia's health care facilities.

The result was PIM, now owned and operated by Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Hospital, Temple University Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. They also maintain affiliations with St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and Kennedy Health System.

Leonard Karp, president and CEO of PIM, and a 20-year veteran of the health care industry who was also a member of the original task force, says that he was "uncertain about the direction that the program would take with the recent global recession."

Business was down in late 2008, but in 2009, PIM treated more than 4,200 patients from such areas as the Caribbean, Israel/the Mideast and Europe.

PIM reaches families around the world through medical conferences, trade shows, government outreach and even word of mouth. If people seeking treatment do not know who to see, "we do what we have to do to get these patients an advocate," explains Karp.

Patients pay for their treatments in a number of ways: They can go through their international insurance or through their own governments' embassies.

PIM staff members spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., working with government officials to make sure that international citizens know that they can receive health care in the United States if it is not available in their home country.

Services go beyond medical treatments. PIM helps patients and their families with travel arrangements, hotel discounts, finding a place to worship -- whatever they may need.

Explains Karp: "When patients leave Philadelphia and go back to their countries to lead a productive life, we have done our job."

But their jobs have been significantly challenged throughout the last decade. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it was extremely difficult for patients coming from the Middle East to get visas into the country. Since that time, PIM has worked to diversify the areas throughout the world that they market to, in addition to their mix of payers.

While patient care is the primary goal of PIM, other programs have emerged over the years: The PIM Institute of Education provides physicians and hospital administrators around the world with hands-on training through physician exchanges and video-conferencing from PIM doctors and staff.

As Karp looks forward, he says that he's eager to see PIM's relationship with Israel grow.

When asked about the health debates raging right now, Karp says that "while there may be a crisis of health care access in this country, we continue to have the best clinical skills and outcomes in the world." 

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