How Leadership and Innovation Are Transforming Health Sciences and Health Care Delivery

Updated on February 5, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.02.10 AMBy Robert S. Sullivan

Can a business school be a force for change of the monolithic U.S. health care system?  I believe when MBA students are educated and trained in innovation, leadership, management, and entrepreneurship; the answer is a resounding yes!  At UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, our MBA students, primarily scientists, health care professionals and engineers are provided the tools to create real companies as part of their education, bringing their skills and newly developed business acumen to bear on the multiple complex challenges facing our society today.  The Rady curriculum enables students to participate in hands-on training throughout the program, gaining skills in communication, team building, executive leadership and networking. Equally important, these newly minted leaders are empowered to create innovative solutions to the numerous challenges in health sciences and health care delivery.

Our current healthcare system is at a critical point where a new way of thinking is required. Although the Affordable Care Act was signed into law over three years ago and despite recent reductions in the increase in annual health care expenditures, the U.S. health care system remains extravagantly expensive and inordinately inefficient. Considering that Americans spend up to twice as much as those living in other developed nations, the U.S. health care system is failing on most measures of effectiveness and value received. As well, escalating healthcare costs are beginning to impact other important U.S. goods and services such as education, infrastructure, renewable energy, and agriscience, all necessary for a thriving, well-balanced society.

I believe there are three necessary components for success that are lacking in U.S. health care leaders today: visionary leadership, effective business management, and commitment to innovation. All are required to solve the conundrum of how to simultaneously decrease health care costs and improve health care outcomes.  The Rady School is actively confronting this enigma by training today’s health care leaders and imparting innovation, leadership, and management toolkits to effect meaningful change in health care administration, delivery and outcomes. Success will entail applying enterprise systems to health care operations, increasingly efficient use of resources, continued product innovation, greater throughput, measurable outcomes and improved patient satisfaction.

Dr. Richard Lieber’s work as Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of California and Veterans Administration Medical Centers in San Diego is pertinent.  Dr. Lieber and three UCSD School of Medicine colleagues studying at Rady are forming a consulting group to function internally at the School of Medicine. Using tools such as queuing, flow time analysis, and bottleneck management acquired in Rady’s first-year operations class, as well as organizational theory and marketing strategy methods and practices, the group is tackling organizational alignment and technical operations issues as well as evaluating new projects. This internal consulting group is addressing inherent and emerging problems in the health sciences field, applying principles of innovation, leadership, and management. Dr. Lieber and his colleagues represent an initial cohort of UCSD School of Medicine faculty earning their MBAs at the Rady School. One-third of their tuition is paid by the School of Medicine, one-third by the department, and one-third by the faculty member. The tuition subsidy has already yielded significant returns on investment. Health care teaching institutions that follow this model of sponsoring a core group of physician/managers while earning their MBAs, would reap similar efficiencies and savings across the scope of their enterprises.

Dr. Royan Kamyar, Rady MBA 2010 and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at UCSD, provides another example of how leadership and innovation are transforming Health Sciences and Health Care Delivery.  Dr. Kamyar created his first company during the year-long Lab to Market sequence. Lab to Market, the signature course series at the Rady School, provides the opportunity to jump-start qualified projects within the confines of the school. Students are introduced to venture capitalists and expert advisors who assist in determining the viability of their proposed business plans. Students design and build prototypes as they work with Rady faculty and industry experts while simultaneously learning about innovation and entrepreneurship. By creating a startup within the Rady academic environment, many students graduate with both an MBA and a viable candidate company, ready to launch.

A second example of Dr. Kamyar’s focuses on providing educational services for patients with chronic diseases. Dr. Kamyar identified a stage III breast cancer patient who did not understand all the implications of her disease or her medications.  In discussions with her, Dr. Kamyar realized his patient did not have the knowledge to be an active, learned participant in her own recovery.  Dr. Kamyar subsequently expanded this concept to include diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and weight management. He was able to secure funding for his new educational website and his product set has been expanded to include tele-monitoring and private social networking. The software is in clinical trials for diabetes, weight management, and heart failure and will help patients insert themselves into their healing process.

Dr. Kamyar emphasizes that entrepreneurship and bold leadership are required for U.S. health care to get to the next stage of delivering value and improving outcomes. For example, when new opportunities for improved service arise such as wireless health (mHealth), the adoption has been notoriously slow. Part of the problem is that streamlined operations and efficient processes are not built-in to the patchwork of current health care systems, a chaotic mix of public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit institutions and organizations.  Bold leadership is required to overcome these barriers to implementing the fruits of innovation.  It is reasonable that medical gatekeepers, including physicians, must see the proof that something works before they will employ it. However, strong leaders and entrepreneurs are needed to step into the breach, demonstrate proof-of-concept, and rapidly prove safety, efficacy, and value in the field of innovative technologies.

MBA programs must continue to facilitate the unfolding transformation of U.S. health care by training America’s leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. The health care businesses created by Dr. Kamyar and Dr. Lieber, when coupled with calculated risk taking and bold leadership points to the profound impact an innovation-focused education is having on health care delivery in the United States.

Robert S. Sullivan is the Dean of the Rady School of Management at University of California, San Diego. For more information, visit   

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