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KNOXVILLE — Two physician leaders from Asia, who met in 2008 as students in the Physician Executive MBA (PEMBA) program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have partnered to improve patient care in Saipan.

“With all of the debate about health care reform making headlines, this is a great example of how lifesaving, cost-controlling, quality-enhancing changes can be made in the health care arena through collaboration and sound business practices,” said Michael Stahl, PEMBA program director.

Dr. Takeo Tedoriya is a professor of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Showa University in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Ahmad Al-Alou is an internist and medical director for a practice in Saipan.

Saipan is located in the Northern Mariana Islands, one of the most isolated groups of islands in the world. Its primary medical center has extremely limited capabilities. As a result, delivering quality health care to the area’s 60,000 inhabitants has been a major challenge.

Patients with cardiovascular problems were being sent to the Philippines, California or Hawaii for treatment. Not only was this very expensive, but a lack of direct flights to these locations caused a severe delay in the timeliness of treatment.

While attending PEMBA, Tedoriya and Al-Alou realized that they could work together to improve medical care. They created a referral program that sends Saipan’s patients with cardiovascular problems to Japan’s Showa University Hospital, which has a highly specialized facility to handle advanced medical problems.

So far the program has saved tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. But, more importantly, it’s also saved someone’s life. Within a week of the program’s start, a patient was operated on, stabilized and sent back to Saipan. There was a 70 percent improvement in treatment time and more than a 50 percent cost savings over the previous system.

“The Physician Executive MBA curriculum teaches physicians how to think as healthcare leaders,” Stahl said. “It encourages physicians to network and pool talents and resources whenever possible.”

A complete report of the Saipan collaboration’s successes is available. To access the report and request interviews with PEMBA officials and these physicians, contact Cindy Raines, (865) 974-4359 or

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034,