Health » Overview

Salzburg Global Seminar has long been a leading forum for the exchange of ideas on issues in health and health care affecting countries throughout the world. At these meetings agendas have been re-set affecting policy and practice in crucial areas, such as patient safety and the engagement of patients in medical decision making. In 2010, Salzburg Global Seminar launched a multi-year series of seminars to crystallize new approaches to global health and health care in the face of emerging challenges affecting us now and set to continue on through the coming generation.


Interviews and coverage from our Health programs

Building Healthy Communities - The Smart Utilization of Technology
Building Healthy Communities - The Smart Utilization of Technology
Tomás De La Rosa 

Participants started the third day of Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals by discussing how new technologies, or novel applications of older ones, can assist in transforming health services, as well as how these technologies can create a more open, connected and collaborative institutional culture of hospitals.

The session was led by Graham Adams, Toyin Ajayi, Selina Brudnicki, and Lynna Chandra. Each discussed ways in which technology can transform health.

Brudnicki said involving patients was key to developing effective tools to help patients manage their own health. She explained how University Health Network, in Toronto, addressed gaps in the sharing of data between hospitals, primary and community care by having patients access their own medical information and make corrections to their record.

Gauging on technology’s role, Ajayi, chief health officer of Cityblock Health, said when considering what she is trying to build, she asks herself whether technology can help at all. And although she does believe it can, now is not the time. “We have tools that are in place to record data and produce bills, but we need to produce full information of patients as people,” she said.

To produce said information, she said building care teams that are in place to create relationships with patients is necessary, saying, “We cannot think of technology as a replacement of humans in care, it should be an augmentation for people.”

“Why don’t we look at technologies that will bring down the hospital walls, rather than creating more barriers in the system?” said Chandra, co-founder of Absolute Impact Partners, highlighting how the system has lost people’s trust and technology should be used to rebuild it.

Adams, CEO of the South Carolina Office of Rural Health, told participants that when people talk about population health and the life of a community, we need to ask how to make sure we have a vehicle that allows everyone at a local level to have access to their information.

Participants heard and discussed the lack of linguistic fluency between clinicians, health systems, and technology developers. Ajayi argued that a solution would be common competency between clinicians and technologists.

Participants continued to discuss the relationship between health and technology among themselves. One participant said that A.I. and visual algorithms can help identify visible threats, but ultimately decisions should be made by someone who understands the patient and their context.


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Building Healthy Communities - Steps Hospitals Can Make to Act on Social Determinants of Health
Building Healthy Communities - Steps Hospitals Can Make to Act on Social Determinants of Health
Salzburg Global Seminar 

To address the social determinants of health, hospitals may have to consider realigning their missions, practices and institutional networks.

Pablo Bravo, Marianne Olsson, Juan Pablo Uribe, and Alison Verhoeven considered the best ways for hospitals to do this during the second panel discussion on the second day of Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals.

Uribe, director general of Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá, asked how health care professionals within hospitals could learn from one another and ensure knowledge was maximized. He called for a better performing system, one where each part is doing the right thing at the right time.

Missions are important for institutions. If another mission is put forward, that is something for another organization to pursue, according to Uribe. He said he and his colleagues strived to provide the best possible care that Bogotá requires, and they wanted to be connected and coordinated upstream and downstream.

Verhoeven, chief executive of Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, suggested Australia had a high-performing health system, but challenges remained in terms of how rural and remote areas accessed health, and how the indigenous population experienced health.  

Participants heard there were opportunities to have structures for consumers to co-design services that meet the needs of communities genuinely and authentically. Verhoeven said data could be linked to inform how to better design services.

One way in which hospitals can realign their practices to address the social determinants of health is through advocacy. Bravo, vice president of community health at Dignity Health, revealed his employer’s advocacy efforts ranged from health care related issues to issues such as access to clean water and affordable housing.

Participants also heard how vacant land had been made available by Dignity Health for farming activities. Meanwhile, facilities no longer useful have been transferred to developers to create low-income housing.
Bravo said this was only possible through working with partners. Dignity Health is focused on providing care to its patients and doesn’t have the capacity or expertise to expand into areas like the construction of housing.

Olsson, an independent consultant, discussed how she helped launch a new hospital in the poorest area of a city in Sweden. Its purpose was to reach a part of the population not served by others.

The key to success is combining data and dialogue. It’s important not to get stuck on fixed concepts when changing health care systems. Olsson said health care was in a better position than others to be the driver of a movement for a healthier community and act as the inspiration for other authorities to follow.


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Building Healthy Communities - Working Together for Better Health
Building Healthy Communities - Working Together for Better Health
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. The more people who help with a project, the more comfortable the task becomes. Participants started the second day of Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals by considering how other sectors could more effectively and proactively collaborate with hospitals in support of better health.

They were assisted in their thinking by Sir Harry Burns, Rev. John Edgar, Rebecca Davis and Mark Rukavina. All four took part in a panel discussion.

Burns, a professor of global public health at the University of Strathclyde, said it was important to involve as many sectors as possible when finding solutions. There is never going to be one answer. In a society which is governed by rules of efficiency, organizations may act as if they exist to do things to people. Burns argued organizations should be doing things with people and asking what they need.

Rather than strictly focusing on their needs, Edgar said his organization, Community Development for All People (CD4AP), worked with people and communities based on their assets, hopes, and relationships. Edgar, CD4AP’s executive director, said after listening to people’s hopes and the changes they wanted to see, they saw notorious developments when it came to housing-based health.

Davis told participants how she had worked with hospitals to understand their recruitment and employment practices. She suggested leaders who wanted to develop a more diverse workforce must ensure there is better cultural understanding in hospital wards. To reach valid conclusions, it’s important to not only look at research but also combine it with local experience and the realities of the communities that are being served.

Participants heard the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, in the United States, in 2010, meant non-profit hospitals had to undertake community health needs assessments every three years. This provided an avenue to understanding the assets and issues communities had.

Rukavina, the business development manager with the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, said hospitals had an opportunity to engage with vulnerable, low-income and under-favored communities and change the perception of the health system.

In response to this discussion, participants considered the existing structures in society that make it difficult for people to address issues and the need to break down walls.


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Toyin Ajayi - Health Care Interventions Don’t Always Lead to Better Health for Communities
Toyin Ajayi - Health Care Interventions Don’t Always Lead to Better Health for Communities
Mirva Villa 

Toyin Ajayi likes people. That is what led her to become a doctor and develop new models of care. She believes health care systems are in need of a new perspective when delivering health. Speaking on the second day of the Salzburg Global session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals, Ajayi says, “I think we are all much more complex as organisms existing within an ecosystem than we are if we focus on just the biology within us.”

In addition to her role as a family physician, Ajayi is the co-founder and chief health officer of Cityblock Health, a recently launched New York-based health and social services company with the goal of offering better integrated health and social services for people with low income and complex care needs. The connection – or even contradiction – between health and health care is at the basis of Cityblock Health’s work. What is this contradiction about, exactly?

“It is a fact of most of our health care systems that we become quite good at doing things to people, and for people: prescribing things to people, doing procedures, and offering interventions that in themselves are health care, but don’t always in aggregate lead to better health,” Ajayi replies, while sitting in Max Reinhardt’s study.

To back up this point, Ajayi gives an example: a person sleeping outside on the streets who develops an obstructive lung disease from smoking and being exposed to lots of other environmental factors. When they access the health care system, Ajayi suggests the focus typically will be on managing their respiratory problems through “aggressive interventions.”

She adds, “We will give them medications, we might put a breathing tube down their throat to breath for them, we might prescribe them additional tests, additional therapies… Those things, in absence of addressing their need for housing, don’t actually make that person healthier in the long term,” says Ajayi. According to her, health care systems have been narrow-minded in their approach. They don’t address the totality of reasons why people have become unhealthy, Ajayi argues. The health sector needs to make a conscious effort to shift their thinking on seeing people holistically.

“Being able to make that transition from more health care to better health requires us to think about things that we’ve never really thought about in health care;” Ajayi says. “Things like transportation, education, access to healthy food, access to housing, social support and community, and love and engagement and trust and empathy – these are all very unfamiliar parts of our armamentarium as health care professionals, but are integral if we actually want to improve the health of communities and populations.”

Ajayi became passionate about the subject while completing her residency training at Boston Medical Center. Some of the patients came to her with problems that far exceeded her ability to treat them.

“I recognized very quickly that if I didn’t understand their ability to take those medicines, their ability to understand the instructions I was giving them, if we didn’t have a trusted relationship, if they didn’t have a fridge to store the medicines, food to eat with their medications, social support and family support to encourage them and keep them engaged, then I could write as many prescriptions as I wanted and it wouldn’t actually improve anyone’s health or well-being.

“I got very interested in thinking how we build models of care to enable doctors like me, frankly, and other professionals who are very passionate about helping people to make better choices for themselves, and live the lives they want to live, to actually gain the skills and experience and the tools to do that and be part of that for them.”

Cityblock Health’s journey has only just started, and the team is working hard to make sure their services and tools will respond to the needs of their future patients.

Commenting on what keeps her moving forward, Ajayi says, “I just fundamentally can’t accept that in 2017, in a country that has such a wealth of resources, some people continue to suffer, continue to face worse outcomes and restricted opportunities based on where they were born and the resources that are available to them. I just cannot accept that we can’t do better than that, and I’m motivated by the idea that we must.”


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Building Healthy Communities - Reflecting on a Culture of Health
Building Healthy Communities - Reflecting on a Culture of Health
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Health happens where we live, learn, work, play, and pray. That’s just one of the thoughts participants considered on the first day of the Salzburg Global Seminar session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals.

Around 60 participants from 16 countries met at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria, on Thursday afternoon for the start of the five-day program, which is being held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Over the next few days, participants will look at developing strategies to enhance effective collaboration and information-sharing between hospitals, social services and community organizations. They will also consider new approaches for hospitals to address the social determinants of health.

This session is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century.

John Lotherington, a program director for Salzburg Global, and Hilary Heishman, a senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, kickstarted the session by taking part in an on-stage discussion.

Beginning the conversation, Heishman suggested health care in the United States was effective at treating people with illness but was less effective at keeping people healthy.

Things that contribute to being healthy in the long-term start early in life, participants heard. Heishman said several factors which enable people to be healthy don’t sound health-related. Education, work, housing, and civic engagement were some of the examples highlighted which can have an effect.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, established in 1972, is committed to building a culture of health. Heishman said, “Within a culture of health, everyone has the opportunity to live the best life they can.”

While there are several obstacles to developing this culture, there are also opportunities to help make it more of a reality. This includes new work with data, information, and alternate payment models. As more people in health care understand the social determinants of health, it might become easier to set up appropriate systems.

In response to this discussion, participants considered the definition of health and what society’s expectations of hospitals were. One participant suggested if a hospital’s role was to change, consumer fears would have to be allayed along the way.

These talking points, and more, will continue to be discussed in the days ahead, as the session continues.


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Amy Little - The Biggest Challenge is Raising Awareness that Dementia is a Medical Condition
Amy Little - The Biggest Challenge is Raising Awareness that Dementia is a Medical Condition
Oscar Tollast 

When Amy Little decided to attend the Salzburg Global session, Changing Minds: Innovation in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, she did so for one reason: “It’s a global session with people from all aspects of dementia and many different parts of the world, so that fits in perfectly with the work that I do…” she says, speaking in Schloss Leopoldskron's Robison Gallery.

Little leads the Alzheimer Society’s international work and is the executive lead of the Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA). The latter of the two is a network of international civil society organizations looking to champion global action on dementia. Its steering committee includes the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Disease International, Age International and Dementia Alliance International.

“The premise of the network is that after the G8 global action on dementia that was initiated in 2013, there was a realization that we needed to mainstream dementia, and we needed the non-dementia world to realize the global problem and how they could actually be part of the solution.”

The Alliance acts as a bridge connecting international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). Little says, “[They] could be from the disability sector, human rights, older people and aging, women's organizations, international development. [It’s] looking at that spectrum of INGOs to help them realize that dementia is a global problem and that actually it can be part of their agenda as well.”

GADAA works with these organizations to raise awareness around dementia and support advocacy efforts. Further down the line, the network is looking at ways it can disseminate tools and best practices to interested parties.

In her role at the Alzheimer’s Society, Little helps share the UK’s experience of dementia and forges partnerships with other countries “to take global action on dementia forward.” The Alzheimer Society supports the UK Department of Health as a delivery partner. Little says, “One example is the Global Dementia Friends Network. We are working with 27 countries who have or are in the process of developing Dementia Friends. We want that number to go beyond 27 obviously. We have shared our program and resources so other countries can adapt those.”

Various countries are at different stages of development when approaching dementia, which Little admits is a challenge. She says, “Sometimes I describe it as the elephant in the room. I come and talk about dementia, and at first, you get a blank face: ‘Why are you talking about dementia?’ There is still that stigma and assumption that dementia is a natural part of the aging process rather than a medical condition. The biggest challenge that we have is that awareness that dementia is a medical condition.”

Little says this challenge applies to every country, including those seen to be leading on dementia. “I have spoken to people from ministries of health who claim, ‘We don’t have this problem in our country.’ It is a big, big challenge we have got to meet.”

According to the World Health Organization, the number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is nearly 7.7 million, suggesting one new case every four seconds. Last year, the Office for National Statistics revealed dementia was the leading cause of death in England and Wales in 2015. While data such as this highlights the impact of dementia, Little asks, “Why in that case don’t more people know about it?”

Speaking on the fifth day of the session, Little says she’s found the experience “very enriching” and is grateful for the time and space to talk more in-depth with her fellow participants. “It has gone too quickly,” she laughs. “Five days feels like a long time, but it has actually gone very, very quickly. It feels like there is so much more we can do and should be doing. It seems to me the purpose of the Salzburg sessions – or one of the purposes – is to foster those relationships that then more happens after as a result.”


The session, Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and The Mayo Clinic. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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Building Healthy Communities - The Role of Hospitals
The session is being held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Building Healthy Communities - The Role of Hospitals
Mirva Villa 

People live longer than ever before. The average life expectancy of people has been climbing up dramatically over the 20th century. A recent study estimated that boys and girls born in 2030 can expect to reach their mid-80s or over in many developed countries like Japan, France, Switzerland, Germany and the UK.

These advancements in life expectancy are news to be celebrated. With the longer life, however, comes the challenge of maintaining health throughout a person’s life. Health care professionals today not only need to respond to the needs of the health care needs of aging population, they also need to take a more pro-active role in creating health.

Salzburg Global Seminar’s session on Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals brings together 60 participants from across the globe to discuss how the health sector could respond to these challenges. The five-day program, which begins on Thursday, is being held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and seeks to discover new approaches for hospitals to address the social determinants of health.

Hospitals will need take up an increasingly active role in cross-sector initiatives, considering the impact of housing, education, food, public safety and employment on health. During the session, participants will aim to develop new strategies to enhance effective collaboration and information-sharing between hospitals, social services and community organizations.

Key questions that will be addressed during the session aim to support this all-encompassing approach on health. Participants will discuss the impact of financial incentives and application of new and older technologies, and the best practices for engaging other sectors, citizens and patients in the transformation needed to create a culture of health. 

The aim of the program is to provide opportunities for information-exchange and global networking among diverse sectors that have an impact on health, and to develop action plans with both local and global scope. Participants will co-create a Salzburg Statement identifying the best practices on how governments, businesses and civil society can collaborate with hospitals in supporting health initiatives.

Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of the multi-year series on Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century, launched by Salzburg Global Seminar in 2010. The forum has brought together a diverse range of health care experts from across the world to discuss various aspects impacting the future of health care and overall health, such as use of data in health care and improving health care in low and middle income economies.


The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

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