Thursday, December 17, 2009

Teaching Would-be Health Care Leaders About Health Care: Why Is This News?

The Wall Street Journal just published a story on a big innovation in the business school curriculum:
David Song was in the middle of a two-year executive M.B.A. program at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business in February when he got the idea to create a course to help business people better understand the inner workings of medicine.

Dr. Song, chief of plastic surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, believes the course may help close the gap between such industries as pharmaceutical and biotech, and the medical community they serve.

'Why not help reveal how things run and how we make decisions, particularly in this time of immense overhaul to the system?' says Dr. Song, who began collaborating with one of his marketing professors, Sanjay Dhar, to put together the course, titled 'Understanding the New Breed of Healthcare Decision Makers'—a five-day $7,650 program slated for May.

The program is designed to give participants a look at the administrative workings of an academic medical center, including how doctors make decisions about the way to treat patients, and which devices and products they choose to purchase.

Booth, like other business schools, is struggling to keep up enrollment in executive education at a time when companies are pulling back on training budgets. Dr. Song's health-care program is the only new addition to the curriculum for the academic year, says Stephen LaCivita, associate dean of executive education.

The program is geared toward professionals who work in areas like pharmaceuticals, medical devices and financial services, who may have a limited understanding of the physicians, nurses and other clinicians who are their customers.

Some of the issues addressed in the seminars, which will be taught by medical and business faculty, include: how doctors and hospitals define value; how reimbursement strategies work; and how supply chain, purchasing decisions, patient flow and operations are managed.

And here is the course's big feature:
As an added bonus, on the second to last day students will change into scrubs and observe a surgery, make rounds with doctors and see how patients are prioritized in the emergency room. 'This is getting a glimpse of what it's like and how we make decisions,' says Dr. Song.

Earlier this year we noted a NY Times article which breathlessly promoted management jobs in health care, partially by implying that they were available to those who knew little to nothing about what health care actually entails, with, at most "a little studying up." This new article suggests how little "studying up" may actually be needed.  The fact that a five-day course to teach budding MBAs a little bit about health care is considered a newsworthy business education innovation by the Wall Street Journal certainly suggests that the prevailing business culture allows management of heatlh care organizations by people with almost no knowledge of or experience in actual health care.

We noted in August that the NY Times article had the whiff of a bubble about to burst.  Indeed, we just noted an article that listed some of the salient characteristics of the recently burst financial/ housing bubble, including "major organizations lead by the clueless."  For that post, we used examples of three leaders of huge financial firms that have now failed (that is, are bankrupt or bailed out) who did not understand the complex derivatives their firms were buying and selling.  In the earlier post, we noted examples of leaders of two big American automobile companies that have now similarly failed who seemed to know little about automobiles.  So here we have would-be leaders in pharmaceutical, medical device and other health care corporations "who may have a limited understanding of the physicians, nurses and other clinicians."

This reinforces my thesis that health care is now in a bubble that will soon burst.  It also suggests why health care in the US costs so much, out of proportion to the quality or access provided.  Even setting aside how the business culture in the last 20 years has put short-term revenue and personal enrichment ahead of everything else, why would we expect that health care leadership by people who know little about health care, and care less for its values, would be anything but disastrous?

1 comment:

InformaticsMD said...


you beat me to posting on this WSJ story.

Re: 5 days, as a high school student I spent two entire summers at an NSF program at Hahnemann Hospital, the second summer tagging along witha surgical group fulltime and actually scrubbing in to surgery and holding retractors and other simple tasks on a regular basis.

A five day introduction? Perhaps a worthy attempt at enlightenment, but I am dubious about it giving much understanding to the MBA's besides vasovagal reactions and "going to ground" when they see their first open abdomen.

They need to spend a summer or two, as I did as a high schooler, to get the basics down pat.

By the way, I have a book called "The 10-day MBA." Does reading that qualify me to be a CFO or lead a business school? 10 days is twice as long as five, after all.

-- SS