Global services: Coordinating care for international families

illustration of a globe with city architecture on the circumference
Each year, more than 2,500 families living outside of the US travel to Boston Children's Hospital for care. (Image: AdobeStock/Illustration: David Chrisom, Boston Children's Hospital).

In most years, more than 2,500 families living outside of the United States seek care at Boston Children’s Hospital. To help guide the process, the Global Services team — a group of medical and administrative professionals — manages all the details. Their mission is to help coordinate care between families, medical professionals in their home countries, and providers here at Boston Children’s.

“Families come here because they value the care; that’s their main priority,” says Dianna Lesanto, manager of the Global Patient Services administrative team. “They also appreciate having a place where they are understood and supported both culturally and linguistically.”

Pre-arrival coordination starts immediately

Referrals to Global Services come from patient families, a doctor or embassy in their home country, or their insurance company. “Once we learn of a family looking to travel to the hospital, we get in touch with the family and guide them through the entire process,” says Global Services supervisor Kristaq Dhima, who supervises a team specialized in helping families traveling from Gulf countries. “We do pre-arrival calls with families and with home country doctors to ensure the safety of the patient traveling when ill.

photo of Metehan Fidan in walker
Metehan Fidan

Metehan’s story

One of our youngest international patients traveled from the United Kingdom in March 2021 for treatment of type 1 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA-1), a degenerative genetic disorder that leads to loss of muscle function over time.

Metehan Fidan was diagnosed with SMA-1 at 8 weeks old. When his father, Tuncay, learned that Boston Children’s offered a rare gene therapy treatment for his son’s illness, he and his wife, Zehila, made the decision to bring their family to Boston.

“We emailed Global Services, and they immediately started learning about Metehan,” he says. The special SMA team that assists international families helped the family collect the necessary medical and testing information and arranged a virtual call with the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Program, directed by Dr. Basil Darras.

One month later, Metehan arrived in Boston and within 10 days he received the Zolgensma gene therapy.

“Everyone at Boston Children’s made the process of getting this treatment as easy and as quick as possibly since the type of illness Metehan has progresses quickly,” says Tuncay. “Our case worker, Diane Azzi, was always there. It was easy to get in touch with her and get the information I needed.” Metehan’s UK-based doctors will continue his care after he returns home.

“I’m so grateful to know that we and our home doctors will be in regular touch with the caregivers in Boston via teleconference,” Tuncay adds. “It gives me confidence that we and our doctors are doing the very best for our son.”

The team works with Patient Financial Services, insurance companies, and embassies to assist with financial arrangements. “We also collaborate closely with the hospital’s Hale Family Center for Families to help our international families with other support, such as housing while in the Boston area, and local transportation to their appointments,” says Dhima.

Global Medical Services also collaborates with clinical departments to create a treatment plan specific to each family’s needs and has subspecialty clinical teams that cater to the unique needs of patients with some medical conditions, such as cancer or certain genetic disorders.

Once a family is in Boston, that family’s case team meets weekly to be sure they are addressing any changes to the plan as they arise.

Care continues after leaving Boston

Even after treatment is complete and a patient returns home, the Global Services team stays in touch via virtual visits to facilitate care. “We have many families who require follow-up visits,” says Lesanto. “For them, we facilitate telemedicine visits with providers in their home country so that care continues after they leave Boston.”

To request assistance, contact the Global Services team.

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