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Is Globalization a Double-Edged Sword in Healthcare?

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif.—The world is flat, make that flatter, compared to just a couple of decades ago. That has both positive and negative implications when it comes to managing disease and care on a global level.

This was the conclusion of a panel discussion Monday afternoon at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference, which takes place over the course of two days this week here in Laguna Niguel, Calif. (You can follow along on the livestream here.) During the session, a trio of experts discussed the opportunities and challenges of a more globalized world, including cross-border clinical trials, the spread of disease and emerging pathogens and managing supply chains.

“On the supply chain side, it [already] is quite global,” said George Barrett, executive chairman of Cardinal Health. “Even if you think of yourself as a domestic company, it’s very likely you’re dependent on something from around the world.” (In the case of Cardinal Health, its supply of isotopes is being produced in the Netherlands and other regions, for example.)

When it comes to conducting clinical trials on a cross-border level, though, it is still early days and there are many hurdles.

“It’s very complicated to provide therapy that is uniform, to have a clinical trial that can be adopted across the globe,” says Joe Almeida, the chairman, president and CEO of Baxter International. “It takes a while to design trials that satisfy different countries.” (Almeida also noted that, while in the United States, there has been progress in getting clinical trials through, the opposite has been true in some other countries.)

Not surprisingly, the spread of diseases (not to mention unhealthy lifestyles that lead to diseases) on a global level is much easier than coordinating care, managing supply chains and clinical trials and rolling out treatments. Why? Pathogens don’t know borders or regulatory restrictions. And there are plenty of economic incentives for expanding fast food chains and other lifestyle-altering franchises to other geographic regions.

“We are the heaviest and most obese country in the world,” said Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute. “We’re now exporting this enormous burden. The changing of the food chain around the world has dramatically changed the onset of diseases.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here.