The Picture of Health
A look inside the business of health careby Jamie Reeves | Photo Essay, Spring 2009 | 2 Comments | Print | Email
According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, roughly 60 percent of Americans think that health care reform is a top priority for the country. While it may not rank as high as the economy in most people’s minds, one could argue that the two are inextricably linked. In fact, spending on health care represents 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and is expected to climb to 20 percent within the next decade.
Bringing meaningful change to the health care industry poses an array of challenges, but there are opportunities as well. Surrounded by Nashville’s thriving health care community, the Owen School has developed world-class academic programs that address the business needs of the industry, and its faculty, students and alumni are leading the way in shaping how health care will be managed for generations to come.
Bill Frist, M.D.
Bill Frist’s spring health policy course is the first of its kind—an even mix of medical and business students in a small seminar that melds the cultures of business and management with the cultures of medicine and quality in patient centeredness. With a dozen years of policy experience as a U.S. Senator and 20 years of medical profession experience, as well as his current business and private equity background, Frist is uniquely qualified to teach the course and notes that Owen is uniquely positioned to offer it.
“There are three generations of health care managers and entrepreneurs in Nashville, and that marriage of ongoing real-life interaction and experience gained by the students with the robust academic discipline through Owen is unprecedented,” he says. “It provides a foundation for continued growth in producing leaders who will address, and ultimately solve, the huge challenges of health care gaps and access in this country.”
By covering topics like health care reform and global health care, a cause Frist is passionate about as evidenced by his new Hope Through Healing Hands nonprofit, he believes his students will leave with a new knowledge of finance policy and health service delivery. Since Owen is geographically situated in what he calls the “Silicon Valley of health care,” Frist is confident that graduates of the school will be the best equipped to play a critical role in addressing “the single greatest domestic challenge in terms of our economy and the future.”
Joe Cashia, EMBA’95
Geographic location and real-world learning attracted Joe Cashia, CEO of dialysis provider National Renal Alliance, to Vanderbilt’s Executive MBA program. “I was entrenched in middle and senior management, and there was a lot of consolidation in my industry. I wanted some day to run my own show but realized that my clinical background would limit my ability to do that, both from a practical and an objective standpoint,” he says.
Cashia credits his success in large part to his Owen experience. “It really gave me an overall view of business, and not so much the myopic day-to-day view that you get in on-the-job training,” he explains. “The EMBA experience helped me germinate the idea of how to start a company and what it would take to go through the funding and so forth. It really had a huge impact on me.”
Having access to real-world health care expertise through Owen’s faculty has proven invaluable for Cashia. “You can make the most of your Owen experience, and it can be the best thing in your life. No one can sit here and say, ‘Well, I never had the opportunity.’ Not in Nashville, not in health care, not at Owen—not with everything that is available to you.”
Frank Grant, EMBA’91
A phone call in 2005 from Cisco Systems’ senior vice president for North America and Japan could have intimidated Frank Grant, but his Vanderbilt Executive MBA experience gave him the skill sets and confidence he needed. Grant was charged with building the first North American vertical for Cisco Systems and today serves as the company’s Senior Director of North American Healthcare.
It was not a difficult decision for Grant, who jumped at the opportunity to work in such a dynamic and varied sector. “I’ve worked in lots of other verticals, but it’s by far the most complicated, and also the most interesting as a result,” he says.
Although the current health care environment is undoubtedly challenging, Cisco is fairing remarkably well: The company has almost tripled its sales over the past three years. Grant also sees opportunity ahead. “Health care is under tremendous financial stress with the number of uninsured increasing as people lose their jobs, but people are starting to realize they must manage more effectively and efficiently,” he explains. It’s important, he argues, to strike a balance between the patient’s standpoint—improving care, convenience and affordability—and the provider’s standpoint of doing things that show immediate financial benefit.
Grant believes that technology is the key to finding that balance. “Health care institutions, from the payers to the providers to the life sciences companies, are seeing that technology is helping improve efficiency and improve patient care.”
Larry Van Horn
These are challenging but opportunistic times in health care, says Professor Larry Van Horn, Faculty Director of Owen’s Health Care Programs. “Health care is a dominant sector of the U.S. economy that is facing a tremendous challenge, tremendous change and tremendous governmental intervention, so the value of good management and good decision making is critical,” he explains.
Those studying toward a Health Care MBA degree account for close to 20 percent of Owen’s MBA students, and the new Master of Management in Health Care is only further expanding the school’s footprint in this area. “There are synergies and similarities between the Health Care MBA and the MM Health Care, which means we can share some of the common experience and some of the common educational content across those programs,” Van Horn says. “This opens doors between the Owen School and the delivery organizations in health care and establishes relationships which could be fruitful for the careers of our Health Care MBA students.”
Van Horn is excited about Owen’s future and the unique position it has to capitalize on its relationship with a top-ranked medical school and medical center. “By being located in Nashville with access to keen minds who are solving and addressing the problems of health care delivery, we are able to shape the minds of future health care management.”
Ernie Clevenger, EMBA’81
Ernie Clevenger, President of CareHere LLC, credits his Owen experience with giving him the necessary tool sets and personal relationships—with both student colleagues and professors, such as business entrepreneur mentor Germain Böer—to succeed in the health care industry for the past 20 years. “My Owen experience was fabulous,” he says, noting that CareHere’s Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer is fellow alum Ben Baker, EMBA’96, and its Director of Sales is Owen graduate Joc Collignon, MBA’07.
CareHere celebrated its fifth year of operation in January. With 85 clinics in 13 states, its unique business model brings the three Ps—the payer, the patient and the provider—under one roof, thereby lowering employer costs while improving patients’ health. “Our clients see their health care cost trend decline,” Clevenger says, adding that many also see an increase in productivity since most patients are in and out of CareHere’s on-site clinics in less than half an hour.
But despite all the innovative technology in health care, Clevenger notes that the doctor/patient relationship is the true measure of success. “At the end of the day it really comes down to the chemistry between doctors and patients. … For those patients to keep coming back—to trust their doctors, to give them their complicated conditions such as hypertension and diabetes to manage—comes down to their relationship with the physicians.”
Phyllis Ekdall, MMHC’09
Phyllis Ekdall, a CPA at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is one of 25 students in Owen’s new Master of Management in Health Care program, which is designed to give working health care professionals the business fundamentals to succeed in their industry. The students in the program come from both clinical and non-clinical backgrounds. Among Ekdall’s classmates are doctors, nurses, and even a marketing professional and an architect.
While practitioners stand to benefit from learning critical business skills that may not have been a part of their formal training, professionals like Ekdall gain a broader perspective through the program. “For us non-clinical personnel it fills the gap of how to integrate those business skills with the clinical personnel and really stand in their shoes and understand their perceptions.”
What drew Ekdall initially to the MM Health Care was Owen’s reputation as a top-tier business school and its convenient schedule: one night a week, one weekend a month, for one year. But more than anything else, she considers it a rewarding experience because of the people she’s met along the way.
“It’s been more enriching than I ever imagined in terms of actually being able to work and talk real-time with my colleagues about how that translates into what we do every day,” says Ekdall, noting the camaraderie among her classmates.
“Because you have access to so many individuals with different backgrounds, a lot of times you’ll find yourself solving problems in hallway meetings. We’re really learning a lot from each other.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper, Congressman for Tennessee’s Fifth District, has taught health care regulation for a dozen years at Owen and says one thing keeps him coming back: the students. “The students are great and are the reason I teach. They are lively, curious, questioning, pertinent, fun, and engaging,” he explains.
Cooper says it’s exciting to teach in such a fast-moving field as health care regulation, where a textbook can’t begin to keep up with the monumental changes that will impact Nashville more than any other region of the country.
“Nashville is ground zero for health care and health care reform. The changes will shape Nashville more than anywhere else and that’s before, during and after the legislation gets through Congress.” The wealth of practical knowledge in Nashville available to Owen faculty and students catapults it above and beyond other health care programs at other institutions of learning.
“Owen has one of the best, if not the best, health care programs in the country because it is so practical. We are surrounded by major CEOs who are nationally and internationally famous for creating new business models to serve patients,” says Cooper. “No other town in the country has that. … They’re neighbors, they’re friends, they’re frequent visitors to the program, they’re guest lecturers, they teach every once in a while. It’s like you’re growing up with these folks who are at the cutting edge of American health care.”
photo credit: John Russell, Daniel Dubois