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Editor's note: This summer, Business Now takes a look at the innovators within AmCham China's membership. To see more, check out our Innovation page and search with #InnovatorsofAmChamChina on social media.

Earlier this year, International SOS quantified the cost incurred by an organization when an overseas posting doesn’t work out. A global leader in medical and security travel risk-management solutions, International SOS reported that it sets a company back close to $1 million. One way to mitigate this risk is through location-specific health and safety briefings prior to the employee's departure, ensuring that they’re adequately equipped to manage the new and unfamiliar environment.

“It's expensive to neglect to take care of your workforce,” said Harold Pradal, General Manager of International SOS China. “This cost brings to light why it’s important to prepare people for the conditions they’ll face when they work in another country.”

International SOS has been running a global operation for more than 30 years, 25 of which have included China. Originally, the company established itself in Southeast Asia to support foreign corporations that set up shop in the region. Recently, however, they’ve also been leading the “duty of care” (the legal obligation of an employer to take care of their people) agenda in China, which, although widely adopted in the West, is a concept that is just beginning to catch on here.

International SOS caught Chinese employers’ attention through the release of two studies, “The Global Framework” and “Return on Prevention.” The former provides a travel risk mitigation checklist to help organizations easily make assignments safer, healthier and more secure. It takes a step-by-step approach to ensure that there is a consistent organizational policy as well as clear identification of individual roles and responsibilities. The latter, published in March 2015, provides an eye-opening look at the benefits of taking care of staff from a financial perspective – every dollar spent on medical check programs for international assignees resulted in a return of up to $2.53.

Serving Chinese expats

Chinese expatriates are being increasingly assigned to destinations with high risks. In 2013, International SOS found that more than 40 percent of medical cases occurred in countries the company classifies as “high” or “extreme” risk.

“We’ve started to work a lot more closely with corporations sending employees to Africa and the Middle East,” Pradal said. “There are huge business opportunities, but corporations may not understand the landscape of the risks they’re taking when they go to these locations.”

With the recent Ebola pandemic and the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), International SOS has had a lot on their plate to maintain the safety of clients, which include Sinopec and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This job doesn’t only involve providing medical staff to ensure that Chinese workers have access to healthcare that meets international standards. International SOS also prepares clients to deal with a bevy of geopolitical and natural crises they might face in unstable areas.

Responding to Ebola

Creating physical and technological equipment to respond to new health crises that arise is another area in which International SOS takes the lead. One particularly important example of innovation fostered by an International SOS medical team is the Portable Mobile Isolation Unit (PMIU). Developed during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in Asia, the unit looks like a plastic-covered cryogenic tube. The PMIU is complete with an air filter to provide fresh air to the patient while still remaining completely sealed to prevent the transfer of germs. Because the PMIU was created a few years ago, International SOS was better able to respond to the recent Ebola outbreak.

The disease also prompted the company to create an app to help clients in affected African nations get in touch with International SOS’s 24-hour assistance platform and provide information on how to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic.

“I think there is massive room for growth and improvement in the healthcare industry,” Pradal said. “It will take some time, but no doubt it will happen.”


International SOS

What it does: Provides international and Chinese organizations with services and solutions to help mitigate medical and travel security risks to their employees

In China since: 1989

Headquarters: Beijing

How they define innovation: “I think innovation is the ability to bring a new type of value to a market or an organization. International SOS is innovating constantly to answer the medical and travel security related questions and issues of organizations around the world, which are changing extremely fast,” said Harold Pradal.