Going Inside the Health Care Ecosystem

Health Care Business Imperative: Functioning at an Increasingly Complicated Intersection with the Patient at the Center of Care

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A conversation with Stanley Y. Shaw, associate dean for Executive Education at Harvard Medical School and faculty director of the Driving Health Care Strategy in the COVID Era program.

Published February 27, 2020, Updated July 1, 2020

Why do business leaders need to understand the inner workings of the health care system?

Health care is at a moment of great change, uncertainty and opportunity. There are new entrants into health care from tech and consumer sectors. Even traditional players, like biotech and pharmaceutical companies, are developing new digital platforms and technology-enabled business models. But all of this exciting activity centers on patient care and that fundamental moment between the patient and the doctor. Business success in this rapidly changing new frontier of health care requires an understanding of how health care works in the real world and the perspectives of people on the inside. These perspectives are the key to understanding how different stakeholders have different concepts of the value of a new innovation, which in turn informs strategies aimed at maximizing uptake and ultimately improved patient outcomes.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the health care ecosystem?

This pandemic has laid bare many vulnerabilities in our health care delivery system, such as racial inequities, supply chain, public health infrastructure, reimbursement and financial models. In a more optimistic vein, we’ve seen a burst of creative energy across biopharma, health IT and delivery systems. Vaccine and therapeutic development is accelerating, in part due to new collaborative models among companies, academia, non-profits and public agencies. The growth in telemedicine highlights how barriers to adoption can arise from multiple stakeholders: in the COVID-19 era, changes in patient preference, clinical workflows, reimbursement and regulatory policy all helped telemedicine overcome historically entrenched obstacles. 

As our health care industry regains its footing, we need to ask - should our goal be to resume health care circa December 2019? Or can we answer this call to arms, to create something that’s fairer and better meets the needs of patients and other stakeholders? This is a pivotal time for our industry, and it’s never been more important to understand the forces that are shaping the future of health care.

What was the inspiration for HMS’s Driving Health Care Strategy executive program?

Through conversations with successful leaders in the health care industry, we find that many of them are “bilingual” in their knowledge base or skill set. For example, they might be a tech company executive who understands the nuances of artificial intelligence but was also trained as a physician. The most effective industry leaders understand business strategy and operations but are also very sophisticated in their understanding of how health care actually works. We developed this program out of a need to help people become more sophisticated about the inner workings of health care, so that insider stakeholder perspectives can inform their business models and innovations.

What are some other important trends impacting health care?

There’s great curiosity and excitement around digital platforms and tools ranging from consumer-facing apps to new sensors. New sources of data and advanced analytics (including deep learning) promise to extract new insights. There are changes in how care is delivered from telemedicine to retailers like Walmart and pharmacies. Advances in science and technology are making novel therapeutic approaches more accessible than ever before. The constantly shifting terrain of reimbursement and policy changes pose business challenges and create uncertainty. All of this is happening in the context of a greater focus on the patient at the center of care.

How does this program prepare participants to create new value in health care?

Rather than teaching leadership or management principles in the abstract, this program gives participants a unique set of perspectives and a visceral up-close understanding of how health care operates. Insights are shared from those on the inside, so that participants can be savvier about their business strategies. Whether you are offering software as a service or a new therapeutic or a wearable sensor, ultimately the most important customer is the patient. But companies have other customers in the ecosystem, from physicians to health systems and payers. It’s critical to understand how these different stakeholders may have different concepts of the value of a new innovation, different factors that influence adoption and different purchasing cycles. This program – which really can’t be found anywhere else – is designed to connect these threads and help participants anticipate the future of care, bring innovations to patients and create value for their organizations. 


Continue the conversation by connecting with us @HMS_ExecEd or with Dr. Shaw @syshaw on Twitter.