Knowledge Expansion

Business school is making healthcare smarter

Insight Article

Professional Development

Leadership Development

Carrie Leana PhD
How does studying supply chains improve the outcomes for healthcare patients? What does brainstorming have to do with decreasing the risk of heart failure? How can ER staff in the United States save more lives by analyzing business decisions in Japan?

These are the types of questions that provide the academic structure for a joint program with the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for physicians and other healthcare professionals who seek to combine and apply best practices of both medicine and business through an executive MBA in healthcare (EMBA-H).

In addition to their existing knowledge and experience as healthcare professionals, the EMBA-H program invites candidates to identify and rethink problems and inefficiencies in healthcare systems and processes with proven problem-solving techniques from other industries.

In particular, the EMBA-H program has a focus on situational collaboration. From the regular curriculum during the program’s 19-month structure to the team-oriented research practicum projects, candidates learn in a blended format of both in-class and distance learning that encourages collaboration, cross-functional knowledge and the ability to consider a problem from multiple angles.

EMBA-H projects combine emergent business specialties such as big data analytics with classic communication skills, such as management training, team-building and conflict mediation, and skills in project management, leadership and consensus-building.

Recent candidate cohorts in the EMBA-H program have included physicians and other healthcare professionals across a wide spectrum of health services, including biotechnology, health system leadership, insurance, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. By sharing their expertise, each candidate not only gains insight into how related fields process the same information, they also expand their vocabulary and frames of reference for discussing and solving new challenges with future colleagues.

“One of my goals in the program was to develop the ability to speak the language of administrators, and these fundamentals were key to accomplishing that goal,” says EMBA-H graduate Matthew Bouchard, MD, chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine, UPMC-Altoona.

Perhaps the most vital aspect of the EMBA-H program is its rigorous attention to situational and experiential learning.

Understanding concepts and theories is not enough to create tangible change. Students must also be able to develop structured inquiries and convert their observations into action. To accomplish this, all EMBA-H candidates must complete a research practicum project that tests their ability to turn data into directives.

For example, in one practicum project, three EMBA-H candidates worked together to gauge the impact on patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes associated with diabetes for patients who made use of the Extended Care Team (ECT) at their primary care facilities. For this project, the designated ECT was composed of a behavioral health therapist, certified diabetic educator, medical social worker, wellness guide, dietician and all-day walk-in clinic.

The study used data from six primary care practice sites that collectively serve more than 55,000 patients. The study evaluated clinical outcomes associated with diabetes regarding A1c level, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and weight loss; behavioral health outcomes measuring depression and generalized anxiety; and patient experience and access, drawn from the results of a survey created by the research team, as well as missed appointment rates.

In addition to seeing how access to the ECT improved patients’ outcomes, the project also sought to understand patient motivations and challenges. After all, even a perfectly designed program won’t work if stakeholders don’t buy in.

In this case, survey respondents reported that their most significant barriers in adhering to a care plan are stress and the cost of prescriptions. They also indicated that a personalized approach across all team members helps to influence the patient experience and the patients’ overall perception of the provider, which could potentially help reduce patient anxiety and increase participation. As possible solutions to these challenges, the students found that depression and anxiety screening in a primary care setting can help identify factors that may prevent patients from adhering to their treatment plans, highlighting areas in which patients may need extra help before they begin to miss their treatments.

Other recent practicum projects have explored how new protocols could improve mortality rates; identified opportunities to reduce incidents of heart failure by innovating the outpatient care process; found ways to lower the healthcare cost curve by providing more effective comprehensive primary and preventative care; and identified methods that could reduce ER wait times by applying better business efficiency principles.

From operations to statistics to finance, the EMBA-H program provides medical professionals with crucial business skills. Introducing these new methods of thinking can shift their perspective when assessing and addressing systemic or procedural problems, at both the micro and macro level.

With their newly refined ability to apply business solutions to healthcare problems, as well as their cross-discipline engagement and management skills, EMBA-H graduates are uniquely prepared to help lead the next generation of innovation in the healthcare field.

About the Author

Carrie Leana
Carrie Leana PhD
George H. Love Professor of Organizations and Management University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

Carrie Leana is the George H. Love Professor of Organizations and Management at the University of Pittsburgh, where she holds appointments in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and the Learning Research and Development Center. She is also director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Healthcare Management and Academic Director of the Executive MBA Healthcare Program and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Aging Institute and the Albert Shanker Institute. She is currently writing a book about financial precarity. 

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