Recently I’ve had several friends approach me with questions pertaining to international relations, specifically the recent actions of North Korea and the infamous Wikileaks release. These two topics in the past week have been twisted and misconstrued, leaving people with a poor conception of the situation. First we’ll examine North Korea and their recent attack on South Korea on the Yeonpyeong island, which resides in disputed waters that North Korea claims are rightfully theirs.North Korea has a unique type of government being classified as a ‘ohereditary dictatorship, which is ruled with a military junta and has a centrally planned economy. I hesitate to call it communist, only because technically the communist movement is international, while the North Korean government consists of maintaining a single state presence. The official name is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) which is of course is irony at its finest considering it has one of the most repressive regimes of modern history.The artillery barrage from last week marks one of the most aggressive moves the DPRK has made to its southern neighbor, claiming that the islands south of the Northern Limit Line belong to them. However, there are ulterior motives at work here: North Korea has no interest in starting a regional war, especially one that they would surely lose. North Korea’s internal stability like all nations in the world revolve around keeping their populace content, of course each nation has their own agenda and how they view a problem. For the DPRK it’s simple: they face chronic food shortages which lead to inflation in the economy and eventually stagnation. In addition to this, some speculate that the attack is simply related to the succession of Kim Jong-il as a test of strength, which could be true as well. No single reason can explain this event easily.North Korea’s diplomacy in the past has been one of aggression to bring key nations to the diplomatic table. In response to this, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States formed the six-party talks in hopes of halting the cycle of violence. For future details, the New York Times has an interactive timeline showing the more prominent events with the clashes between the two Koreas, including the six-party talks. The most recent incident is nothing new, with North Korea wanting attention and diplomatic power by threatening war; however, it’s no secret that the leadership wants direct talks with the United States. This would enable the DPRK to cut a deal so to speak with the United States on the trade embargo imposed on them and the foreign aid they receive, instead of getting their requests watered down in the six-party talks as mentioned before.Hence, North Korea has nothing to gain for starting a peninsular war with its southern neighbor, since even China, their closest “ally” in the loosest sense wants to prevent this at all costs. Having North Korea engage in a war means refugees crossing into China controlled Manchuria; a logistical and domestic nightmare. It would also mean American troops being stationed directly on China’s border, which would ruffle the feathers of the Chinese leadership. Finally, North Korea would most likely not launch a nuclear strike on the United States because, not only does their missile technology pale in comparison to ours, but they would also never be able to come to any diplomatic table from the international community.In relation to this, we know from the Wikileaks fiasco that China is having second thoughts when it comes to their alliance with North Korea. The DPRK is proving to be too troublesome and closed-minded even for Chinese standards, damaging their relations with the international community and their slow transition to democracy. For now, the best course of action for the United States is to continue the six-party talks and have direct discussions with the Chinese leadership over North Korea. Only China can rein in their unruly neighbor, which would dramatically change the dialogue of negotiations considering they’re North Korea’s main trading partner.This would not be the first time Wikileaks has given the public access to high level diplomatic information; in fact, the website is starting to change how the public views governments and the complex relationships between them. If you are completely unfamiliar with Wikileaks, here’s what you need to know: Julian Assange is an Australian citizen who is the editor-in-chief and spokesperson for the website Wikileaks. The website, through various internal sources predominately in the United States Military, obtains and releases sensitive high level data on government operations which only until now have been quite serious. The servers are located throughout the world and the legal status is complicated to say the least, however if one could label a headquarters it would be Sweden due to their strong laws to protect confidential journalistic sources. In fact, one of the main computer servers has been described as a James Bond villain style bunker, located 30 meters underground in a Cold War facility.It’s hard to judge if Wikileaks is legal, however it is providing what many see as a veil lifted from the public’s eyes on the inner workings of governments. Congressman Ron Paul was quoted on the subject saying, ‘oIn a free society we’re supposed to know the truth, in a society where truth becomes treason, then we’re in big trouble. Naturally many, including most notably former Canadian government adviser Tom Flanagan said that Julian Assange ‘oshould be assassinated, though most government officials view Wikileaks as a security risk, potentially ruining delicate balance of diplomatic relations.Regardless, Wikileaks has given journalists, bloggers, even ordinary people a wealth of information to analyze and digest. Frankly, there is so much more I could write and speculate on but for now expect Wikileak documents to be part of my regular analysis in the future. This article was intended just to introduce anyone to the website, and of course use its cables to explain China’s relationship with North Korea. In turn, North Korea’s recent actions are unacceptable to the international community and the six-party talks should resume with China in particular taking the lead in condemning the attack. Only China can effectively neutralize the DPRK’s leadership, making them think twice about future attacks, lest they risk their trade relations and overall economy.
Get ready, because a similar storm is brewing in the healthcare industry, and an important disruption is about to occur to the conventional system of wellness communication.Important Trends Are at WorkThese powerful fronts are colliding:• Fast, self-help access to healthcare sources and data. Healthcare consumers arm themselves with information by simply using their fingertips. Credible Internet sources abound, and today’s patients can quickly scan reports, share links, ask questions and post comments.• Rising healthcare costs, coupled with anxiety about money issues. Apprehension and hypertension persist. Widespread worry about medical (and other) expenses remains. Many employees are largely covered under their current insurance plans for a variety of medical issues, and some folks also feel confident that they have funds in reserve, but now more than ever, they occupy a global buyer’s market. Healthcare consumers, like savvy retail shoppers, are price-conscious and determined to locate maximum overall value.• Confusion about the future of the U.S. healthcare industry. Are your employees confident that they’ll qualify for a heart surgery or another major procedure in a few years? The more confusing the U.S. healthcare system gets – and the more bickering that persists over upcoming laws and regulations – the more consumers will seek alternative options for care. In general, we don’t like waiting around, especially in order to be told what to do.Patients Are Realizing Their PowerThe combination of these powerful trends will generate at least one important outcome: More of your employees are going to become global patients.”Medical tourism,” the practice of traveling to receive medical, dental or surgical care, isn’t new, but it’s changing. U.S. residents have long been traveling to other countries for care, particularly for cosmetic surgery, dental work, procedures not covered by insurance and procedures not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, however, many “medical tourists” are fully insured employees seeking all kinds of care-cardiology procedures, orthopedic surgery, spinal fusions, cancer treatments, bariatric surgery, fertility treatments, eye surgery and many more.The biggest attraction for medical tourists is no secret – cost savings that are often huge. A heart-valve replacement priced at $200,000 or more in an American hospital can cost $10,000 in India, according to the University of Delaware, and that price includes airfare and a post-operative vacation package. Medical tourists receiving care in Thailand save about 70 percent on average, and ones traveling to Latin America typically save at least 50 percent, according to the Medical Tourism Association.The simple truth: Individuals will choose to travel for care when the care is of higher quality, more affordable and/or or more easily available than what they can receive at home.”Many people believe markets perform better than governments in allocating resources, and are much faster to respond to the demands of consumers,” says Fred Hansen, a physician and journalist. “Patients are realizing that the power of the consumer vote, exercised many times every day on choices in different markets. The Internet and cheap airfares have greatly increased consumers’ opportunities and choices by creating new consumer-driven markets.”In hopes of securing a piece of that market, several countries – especially India, Singapore and Thailand – offer state-of-the-art facilities that specifically cater to medical tourists. These facilities have advanced technologies and equipment, and often employ physicians trained and board-certified in the United States.Employers and Benefit Firms Are RespondingMore employers and employees are giving medical tourism options serious consideration. A June 2010 survey conducted by the Medical Tourism Association at a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference found that 48% of the employers surveyed are “interested” in offering medical tourism to their employers on a voluntary basis, with 36% indicating they “might be interested.”Experts say the medical tourism industry could turn a corner if enough U.S. employers and insurers actively promote and underwrite it. Medical tourism is now being considered by industry giants like CIGNA, Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield, all of whom say they have either started or will soon start pilot programs that will offer partial travel medical insurance.Other insurers have already launched pilot programs:• Wellpoint began offering a pilot program with Serigraph Inc., a Wisconsin-based printing company. Under the program, members of Serigraph’s health plan can elect to travel to India to undergo certain procedures, including major joint replacement and upper and lower back fusion, and pay lower out-of-pocket costs.• IDMI Systems Inc., a Georgia-based automation software developer, contracted with Companion Global Healthcare to provide medical tourism options for certain medical procedures to employees and dependents covered by the company’s self-funded health plan.Disruptions Are ComingWe believe more companies will realize the credibility and viability of medical tourism, and will begin offering options for employees. Also, companies with self-funded plans will begin incentivizing employees to travel abroad for care.The coming rise in medical tourism will be disruptive to the conventional healthcare system in profound ways:• It will reduce the power of coalitions’ purchasing power when they approach healthcare providers.• It will lead to new “centers of excellence” located across the world. Latin America is already becoming one for dental work, and India is becoming one for heart surgery.• It will showcase the fact that employers aren’t going to give up their rights to affordable healthcare in an open, global economy.Are You Preparing?Are medical tourism options right for your employees? You need to take into consideration several different factors, including current health plan choices, employee demographics, risk associated with receiving care abroad and the medical tourism benefit options offered by insurers.No matter what you think of medical tourism, it’s wise to prepare your communication. If you choose to help employees seek overseas care, what messages and education materials can you offer so they can gain a clearer understanding of medical tourism’s advantages? Providing and promoting these materials will help them decide whether medical tourism is right for them.If you choose to not help employees seek overseas care, how will you communicate that decision and defend your reasoning?Here are the two most common questions employees have about medical tourism, and perspective you can share:• Why don’t more insurers offer medical tourism options? Insurers want to take reasonable measures that providers overseas have the credentials to provide adequate care. They’re also concerned with continuity of care – for example, how much are they willing to cover for physical therapy back in the U.S.?• Do treatments take place in low-quality facilities? Not usually. Medical tourists can find facilities abroad that are as good as ones in the U.S. About 220 overseas hospitals are certified by Joint Commission International, and most doctors who treat medical tourists have trained in the United States, Australia, Canada or Europe.In addition to answering employees’ questions, here is news to keep in mind when considering (or implementing) a medical tourism benefit option:• New medical tourism guidelines have been created. U.S. organizations have begun to establish medical tourism guidelines and programs to assist people in choosing appropriate health care for their needs. Employers should ensure employees have a wide range of materials available to them to help them decide which route to care is appropriate. These resources include new medical tourism guidelines from the American Medical Association that the organizations says employers, insurance companies and other entities that facilitate or incentivize medical tourism should adhere to. The guidelines suggest that patients should be referred only to facilities that have been accredited by recognized international accrediting bodies, such as the Joint Commission International or the International Society for Quality in Health Care.• The Medical Tourism Association recently launched its Quality of Care Project. The project focuses on enhancing transparency of the quality of care worldwide so that employers, patients and insurers can better assess and compare facilities around the world. The project aims to create a single methodology for reporting certain statistics and quality indicators, so that individuals and companies can compare health care facilities’ quality, costs, patient volumes and patient safety records.
Do economics courses leave you craving a bit more crunch? Find yourself wanting to take a bite out of bio? Are your literature courses a bit too sweet, and your poly-sci courses a little too sour? Maybe a traditional liberal arts education isn’t exactly your cup of tea… What is? Culinary study.The Call of the KitchenIf you’d rather spend time studying a cookbook than a chem book, you probably know it already – most culinary schools seem to have an inclination toward the kitchen before they graduate high school. What you may not know is that your passion can translate to a very exciting and lucrative culinary career.”I spent my freshman year at New York University (New York, NY),” say Debbie Shure. “I had a kitchen in my dorm and I would always cook for my friends. It was a great hobby, but I never knew that I wanted to make a career out of it.” Things have since changed, as Debbie recently graduated from Johnson … Wales’ (Providence, RI), a world-renowned culinary school, and now has a successful culinary career at Chocolatier magazine.The same held true for Nathan Rhodes, who worked in Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s corporate office after high school. “I always had a passion for food, and I picked up on that early on,” says Nathan, now 24 and studying at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA, Hyde Park, NY).”I was working a corporate job, because that’s what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do. Then I saw a television special on WOLFGANG PUCK [a famous chef and restaurant owner]. It inspired me to apply to culinary school, and now I love it to death!” Well – death by chocolate, maybe.Nathan was able to find just the right recipe for his culinary career dreams. How to start? By finding the right culinary school for you.Culinary Schools: Not Your Average ClassroomYou may have a knack for whipping up late-night mac n’ cheese or adding just the right amount of cream and sugar in your morning coffee, but culinary school will probably be a bit more demanding.”CIA’s associate’s program is about 85 percent hands-on learning,” says Nathan. “The day starts with a lecture that reviews recipes and answers questions, and for the next five hours you’re in the kitchen. Then there’s a lecture to close the day.”But the hard work pays off. “The thing about culinary school is you get out what you put in,” says Debbie. “If you work hard, you’ll learn a ton. Your instructors are completely willing to help you as long as you’re motivated.”The Real (Culinary) WorldAs the recent reality show, “The Restaurant” showed, the day-to-day operations of a culinary career – particularly within a popular eatery – are frantic, fast-paced, demanding, and most importantly, exciting. Most culinary schools have some kind of externship program, where you work on site, to help give you a taste of what a culinary career is like.”CIA’s externship lasts 21 weeks and you can go to any of the 1,700 approved sites,” explains Nathan. “It’s sort of like a job application, where the restaurants are looking to hire students. You apply, go on an interview, and then hopefully get the position.” For students embarking on such study, finding a culinary school that places great value on in-the-kitchen experience is vital to your future culinary career.A Culinary Career SmorgasbordPerhaps the most important thing to know about earning a culinary degree at culinary school is that it won’t limit you to the kitchen. “The food industry is experiencing a huge boom right now, and there are many more jobs than there used to be,” says Colleen Pontes, a CIA graduate and former Chocolatier food writer. “The popularity of MARTHA STEWART opened the door for food media and food TV, and the industry in general is generating so much excitement and interest at the moment.””We want to show people the culinary career opportunities that are out there,” says Kathy Shaw, sales and marketing director at Le Cordon Bleu (Ottawa, Ontario), and graduate of the school’s culinary school programs in Paris. “I started out wanting to be a chef, now I do the school’s marketing. There are many ways to make this passion a career.””There are countless culinary careers beyond being a chef like catering, food TV, food writing, food art, event planning, food critic positions,” agrees Nathan. “Even research and development at major food companies like Hershey’s or Campbell’s – all of the sauces, candies, soups and flavors those mega companies put out are designed by people with culinary abilities.”And you’ll never be stuck in one place. “When I first started, I wanted to be in the kitchen making desserts for people,” says Debbie. “Now I realize I want to be a food writer, which will be great. I can combine all of my food knowledge with my writing skills and help Americans understand what good food is all about!”