In 1850, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis made a discovery that let doctors in maternity wards save millions of women’s lives: he recommended they wash their hands.
Nearly two centuries later, health care holds the same core mission: help patients get better. The image of the doctor and nurse at the bedside of a sick patient endures as medicine’s defining image. In that classic image though are hundreds of little decisions – what equipment is stocked by the bedside, what drugs are available, where do temperature readings get recorded and stored – that provide the structure for that interaction to occur.
As health care has innovated, the infrastructure that supports medicine has grown more complex. Health care now battles with implementing electronic medical records and different care delivery models. It is transitioning towards population health and managing chronic illnesses rather than traditional communicable diseases. An increased emphasis on patient outcomes, the current wave of innovation’s overarching theme, has renewed Dr. Semmelweis’s call to not only look for groundbreaking discoveries in medical science but also for improvements in the processes of health care delivery. Especially when the components of the system are so fragmented.
At Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, this is the mantle the business school of one of the preeminent institutions in medicine has chosen to take up. Since its inception in 2007, Carey students have gone on to influence every sector of health care with a mission to utilize the skills of business for bettering humanity. At Carey’s Health Care Industry Day, students had an opportunity to meet these alumni along with the network Carey has created in pursuit of this mission.
My first meeting of the day was with Shambhavi Ray (MBA ’16) of Lupin Pharmaceuticals. “Big Pharma” has gained a reputation as an industry that prioritizes profits above people. While there is a case for this perception, Shambhavi reminded us that pharmaceutical companies do discover and produce drugs that cure diseases. She described her role in market access as one that sought to get necessary drugs out to those that need them. Furthermore, she acknowledged the unique relationship pharmaceutical companies have between turning profits and patient survival but challenged us as future leaders to improve the situation.
Next, I heard from the hospital administration’s perspective. Joe Hill and Jennifer Buford of HCA Health Care and Vernon Botts and Vaibhav Singh (MBA ’19) of Highmark Health offered us lessons in health care structure. Joe and Jennifer spoke of their residency program that trains future health care leaders in how to manage a health care institution. Residents prepare hospitals for hurricanes, manage treatment supplies, and acquire workforce talent. They ensure that doctors and patients have room to operate.
Vernon and Vaibhav gave their perspective on how they are helping Highmark Health implement a value-based system. Over the past two decades, health care has begun a shift towards value-based care that incentivizes better health outcomes over a traditional fee-for-service model that incentivizes the number of services performed. Our Highmark Health representatives were happy to share with us their experiences traversing this new territory with its many peaks and valleys.
I had a treat afterward meeting up with a member of my MPH/MBA family Crystal Ki (MPH/MBA ’17) and her colleagues Darrell George and Kayla Stueland-Imo. They came from Navigant Consulting working in health care performance improvement. As big data continues to gain traction, the health care sector gains the ability to better objectively evaluate its processes and improve the efficiency of care it produces. Crystal and her team at Navigant work hard to help health care organizations refine their operations and produce better patient outcomes while reducing costs.
Finally, I met Ian Brown (MS ’99) and his team from Erickson Living. Erickson Living tackles one of health care’s newest challenges: senior retirement living. As a result of our successes in health care and high quality of life here in the United States, life expectancy is higher now than it has ever been. With this comes a new challenge in providing for a population that requires medical attention and the often-overlooked necessity of social attention. Erickson Living developed a formula that emphasizes independence and dignity for its seniors. Given that loneliness, anxiety, and depression are three of the leading causes of death among seniors, Ian spoke with passion and pride about Erickson Living’s progress in addressing both the senior population’s medical and social needs in one move.
When the event ended, I had a chance to reflect on what I had learned today. Health care is the signature issue of my generation. With so many stakeholders holding different priorities, I began to wonder how we could ever operate as one cohesive body. As I analyzed the stories I had heard from big pharma, hospitals, insurance groups, consulting firms, and senior living communities, the answer was clear, the central dogma of health care: We all want to help patients get better. This feel-good phrase is by no means meant to be a solution to the very concrete problems that exist within our health care system but it’s a starting point for building the collaborations we so desperately need. We are in a time where politically polarized culture has created echo chambers that reinforce our own viewpoints whether they be informed or misinformed. In health care, where the system is so broken and the stakes are so high, it’s easy to oversimplify and place blame on one party. But to acknowledge that all stakeholders in health care hold that same core mission is important in starting to break down those chambers and open dialogue for connecting these fragmented sectors.
We in health care hold a special privilege of doing something meaningful with our careers and we at Carey hold a special privilege to be at the forefront of health care innovation. From all the wonderful people we met at Health care Industry Day, we also now know that we bear with us an expectation to be good stewards and pilots of a system we will soon inherit – the Dr. Semmelweis-es of 2020 and beyond.