January 16-In the first interview of what will be a long-term relationship with The Harbus to highlight services and improvements at HBS Health Services, the new Director of Business School Health Services, Dr. Bruce Biller, outlined a number of service changes that are already underway and others that are soon to come.
In his office in Cumnock Hall, Dr. Biller, an enthusiastic and ambitious man fitting for the HBS environment, launches the interview by discussing the new “Open Access” concept that is being introduced University-wide and that will “definitely change life as we know it here at Health Services.” The concept, championed by Dr. David Rosenthal, Director of Harvard University Health Services, is designed so that “you can get care the same day you ask for it,” says Dr. Biller. “Our goal is that we’re going to make a big change and a big difference.”
He should know. Dr. Biller is not only Director of Business School Health Services, a position he only accepted last year after a heavy recruiting effort to lure him from his primary work with MIT by Harvard, he is also the Chairperson of the Quality Management Committee of University Health Services, a high level committee that meets twice a month. On the day of the interview, one of his staff from the committee’s work, Dominique Kim, was on site to study baseline performance at the center.
“I’m the new kid on the block and I can only hide under that label for so long,” joked Dr. Biller. While the University-wide change plan is underway, Dr. Biller says, “I’m not just going to sit here and wait; we’re still pursuing improvements in the meantime.” Among these improvements are upgrading technologies used in the HBS Health Center and team-building initiatives with the HBS Health Services staff.
Dr. Biller is also enacting direct improvements to patient services. Pat Light, Director of MBA Program Services, student senators, and Dr. Biller have been meeting regularly as part of a Student Association Student Healthcare Committee. As a result of their efforts, the HBS Health Services Center is beginning a pilot program to increase access to care by establishing Monday morning walk-in hours between 7:30 and 9:00 AM, and fast blood-drawing for students, such as for routine tests, between 8:00 and 8:30 AM.
“But my concern,” says Dr. Biller, “is that students shouldn’t wait for care if they develop symptoms on Friday night just because it’s more convenient to wait than going across the river.” The Holyoke Center has Urgent Care available to students 24-hours a day, every day.
The major problem that Dr. Biller sees for HBS students is the conflict between their access to care and the demanding schedules required of them. The mandatory attendance policy of HBS is a significant obstacle to providing access to care for students; this is compounded by union rules that restrict the hours of the Center’s staff. The Center recently hired a nurse practitioner who is available Wednesday through Friday to increase patient capacity at peak-demand times.
Rigid student schedules can also become problematic when students need the care of a specialty practitioner who has more inflexible appointment times. Dental care also remains a challenge, says Dr. Biller, because of a shortage of qualified dental hygienists on the market. “But Dental Services is trying really hard,” he says.
“Student feedback is critical to our improvements,” says Dr. Biller. “We need to partner with students to identify needs and solutions. We need to do a better job of getting a broad range of student opinion: the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’re all businesspeople, you have a lot of work experience and knowledge, and you have high expectations. And I think that’s great. I hope to learn from you.”
A limitation of the Center’s feedback mechanism now is that only users of the Center’s services are providing feedback through a proactive feedback solicitation program. However, Dr. Biller wants to learn more about those who do not use the Center, and what specifically he and the Center can do to reach out to non-users.
“One of my goals here,” Dr. Biller explains, “is to grow the business so to speak, to grow demand so we can grow our resources and capabilities and provide better and broader services.” Among the services Dr. Biller has in mind is increased staffing to improve care access and a pharmacy delivery service for on-campus prescription pick-ups.
He also wants to use the Internet to make forms and information more readily available, such as for those people who plan to travel internationally and need immunizations and certain paperwork. “It requires some homework,” says Dr. Biller. The Internet could also be used to provide outreach and treatment information about sexually transmitted diseases. “Some incidents that we’ve seen at the [University-wide level] imply unsafe practices and therefore the need to talk about permanent prevention, safer sex, and even pregnancy prevention options.”
Dr. Biller recommends that every student select a Primary Care Physician and see that physician as her or his personal doctor. He also asks that students be careful to cancel appointments ahead of time so that those times can be freed for walk-ins or other patients in need of care. This is of particular concern during the recruiting process, when students may need to travel at the last-minute. Within a week or two, he expects an e-mail cancellation feature to be added to the my.HBS portal.
The overall message from Dr. Biller is that changes are taking place that should noticeably improve health services at HBS. Within a year, he expects Open Access to become a reality, when students can receive care on the same day they request it, and he expects more access to care for business school students in particular, increasingly tailored to their scheduling needs. “What we’re really looking for,” says Dr. Biller, “is input from our consumers and potential consumers, and that can be very hard. Hopefully The Harbus can help.”
Dr. Bruce Biller can be contacted at Bbiller@uhs.harvard.edu, or call the Business School Health Services in Cumnock Hall at 617-495-6455. More information about University Health Services is available on the web at Health Services Info Also look for further information on the my.hbs portal and in future issues of The Harbus.