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Aspiring to Lead in Health Care Innovation: Health Care Initiative’s Director on Cutting Edge Work

Ed Anderson teaching

Innovative heath care work is happening across the McCombs School of Business, and Ed Anderson is at its helm.

Anderson is director of the Health Care@McCombs initiative, which brings a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, information management, and operational and organizational systems to the issues and challenges in health care. As a professor in the school's Information, Risk and Operations Management Department, Anderson teaches Health Care Operations Management, New Venture Design and Implementation, and co-teaches the Health Care Technology Commercialization Practicum. Anderson is also building a McCombs health care advisory committee composed of industry members from the community. 

He recently shared an overview of what’s happening with health care at Texas McCombs.

What are your goals for the health care initiative?

One is to improve our business research presence. We're trying to fertilize cross-research. Roughly 10 to 20 units throughout the university are doing health care delivery research of one type or another. It's not just the medical school: There's also Nursing, Architecture, Liberal Arts, Communication, and so on.

Another is to improve the health care curriculum at McCombs. We're tailoring a graduate program so that when you think about entrepreneurial innovation plus health care it equals McCombs. That's our goal.

The third is community outreach. We're trying to work with the Seton Family of Hospitals — Dell Seton, Seton Medical Center, and Dell Children's — and various community clinics, mostly for the underserved. Those are our two main sources right now. 

Who are the newest faculty doing work in health care?

IROM Professor Diwakar Gupta is part of the provost's initiative to hire distinguished health care professionals or professors. He’s been involved in all sorts of research, from utilizing surgical clinics more effectively to advanced pharmaceutical contracts for developing countries to figuring out how to increase organ supplies, specifically kidneys, in the United States. It's great stuff. He's a former director at the National Science Foundation and was a professor at University of Minnesota, so we're really lucky to have him.

Among the approximately 15 active health care researchers at McCombs, can you highlight any work?

IROM Professor Doug Morrice is working to make integrated practice units at Dell Medical School to pilot better clinical treatment in the future for people who are suffering, for example, from joint problems. If you, say, have a bad knee or hip, you'd have physical therapy, orthopedic surgeons, and a number of other specialists on hand. It becomes one-stop shopping. How do you make that economic? Because even though it's not-for-profit, you still have to meet your expenses. It turns out to be really tricky.

Associate Professor of Management Ethan Burris has research on nurses speaking up in hospitals, because there's a tendency to defer to physicians when maybe they shouldn't. Associate Professor of IROM James Scott is looking at how fatigue affects the quality of care. Associate Professor of IROM Maytal Saar-Tsechansky is working on health care informatics. Assistant Professor of Management Shefali Patil is interested in compliance.

What about your own research?

I do two types of research. Over the last few years, I've been looking at digital platforms and the economics behind them. Think iPhone applications. In the last year, I've been looking at electronic health care records systems and why they tend not to interface well with each other. If they can't interface well, then they aren't going to work with applications very well.

I used to be a software engineer about 25 years ago, and I can still read and understand the architectures. This is not a good thing. If it's something I can look at in five minutes and understand, that means it's 20 years out of date, relative to the rest of the industry.

And the second focus?

I'm working with Dell Seton to look at process improvement in health care. I used to do process improvement for Ford back in the early 90s and I've taught it for years. But in health care, there are so many challenges: Patients are not widgets; they’re not standardized. Physicians aren't machines, and they have to customize health care to their patients. Each one of those patients is an individual with different health care histories, comorbidities, and expectations.

In general, clinicians aren't taught to think of processes because their primary focus is on the patient at hand. They’re not trained to look at the overall processes and possible similarities between patients. A lot of patients are similar, but many clinicians are focused on the most difficult patients who spend more time in hospitals.

How are students getting involved?

Two years ago, MBA students founded the Health Innovation Fellows program. They're really driving entrepreneurial innovation in health care. They're a very strong presence that has tied in nicely with our efforts. We get their input for how they want the curriculum to change. They do their own work, as well, and we're very proud of them.

What's the future of health care for McCombs?

Dean Jay Hartzell is behind us. Four or five years ago, we really didn't have a footprint. Now, we have a footprint and we’re growing, but we still want to increase it. My predecessor, Management Professor Reuben McDaniel, was the one who really kicked it off. We aspire to be the leader in health care innovation, particularly health care delivery. That's our goal, and we're getting there.

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