Health Care Conference Performs Check-Up on Management Education

“Why do we teach using the case method?” asked Professor Michael Chu, co-creator of the popular Business at the Base of the Pyramid EC class he teaches with Professor Shawn Cole.

Hands shot up in the air.

“Because it helps approach the multiple dimensions of any issue,” offered one respondent, “It allows us to discuss the ethics, the laws, the economic factors surrounding the case.”

“I don’t know why we do it,” replied another, “the case – there’s no conclusion. I can’t see what we’re supposed to take away from it.”

The students sitting around this Aldrich classroom discussion were not there to earn their degrees. Quite the opposite –they were professors and industry professionals from around the world, attending the first conference on 21st Century Health Care Management Education. The conference, which took place on October 4-5 in Aldrich, was organized by Professor Regina Herzlinger, creator of the Innovating in Healthcare Intensive Course for ECs, as a means of “Confronting Challenges for Innovation with a Modern Curriculum.” In recent research, Herzlinger established that health care management education may not be meeting the current needs for health care management talent. The conference assembled a cast of attendees, with representatives from Japan to the Mayo Clinic to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, with the hopes of tackling this looming challenge for management education.

Professor Chu’s question was not an idle reflection on best-practice pedagogy. The healthcare industry landscape is changing. Debates on Medicare and individual mandate notwithstanding, there is broadening consensus that business cannot continue as usual. With annual U.S. healthcare expenditures at $2.6 trillion (17% of GDP) and growing, managers of healthcare companies can literally no longer afford to think of the costs of drugs, devices, or services in isolation from one another. There is no one culprit for runaway costs, and no silver bullet to set the system straight. Healthcare managers of the future need to think and act innovatively – and that future is knocking. But how well prepared are managers to brave this new world?

As part of Professor Herzlinger’s ongoing research, with interviews and surveys for 60 of the world’s most innovative health care CEOS and a content analysis for the curricula of 26 for the country’s leading health care administration curricula, surfaced evidence that healthcare management educators and employers may be talking past each other. Course descriptions from top schools of health care administration placed great emphasis on healthcare policy. Yet some know-how valued by employers, such as entrepreneurship, was largely absent from course descriptions. Of course, there is a general alignment between what educators and employers are trying to achieve: training the next class of healthcare leaders. Yet somewhere, the language of industry and academia may have begun to diverge.

But it is out of character for champions of the case method to graze on the pastures of what “is”. At the conference, discussion quickly ventured toward greenfield thinking of what “should be”. Through a series of breakout sessions, top educators and industry professionals began gathering the seeds for systemic change. What do we teach students who aspire to innovate in healthcare? What tools do we use, and how do we share successful curriculum innovations? Conference tracks ranging from economic policy to technology encouraged participants to think beyond industry sector and business function.

At the dinner reception, Richard Gilfillan, director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, spoke resolutely about the future of healthcare delivery. New models of care delivery were being validated nationwide, and the people in the room would play a pivotal role in training leaders that can bring the models to scale. Like any good case, the question of “how” had no straightforward, obvious answer. The energetic chatter around the dinner tables suggested that the next conference on Health Care Management Education would be worth the wait.

October 22, 2012
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