Can Business Strategy Drive Healthcare Reform?

Can Business Strategy Drive Healthcare Reform?

Healthcare discussion

In countries like Canada and the UK where there are strong socialized public health systems, the relationship between medicine and business may seem a little less clear than it does in fully privatized systems. Yet public healthcare is deeply enmeshed in the global capitalist system, from pharmaceutical giants to the tech companies that provide life-saving equipment to hospitals. In Canada in particular, there is a clear need for healthcare reform given increasing costs and a steadily aging population. A preventative model of care is desirable for universal healthcare to be sustained; if future generations are to continue to enjoy one of Canada’s signature achievements, it will require integrating strategic planning from MBAs and MDs.

How did we get here?

Canada’s universal healthcare system has its roots in the late 1950s, when then-Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas began to explore the possibility of having the provincial government subsidize the hospital expenses of all residents. In time, citizens rallied around the cause of medicare and it was adopted, first provincially, then nationally, despite the objections of some Canadians.

As Douglas famously noted in a 1983 speech, however, what he called this “first stage” of universal healthcare was “the easy part.” The more difficult challenge in Douglas’s view was to create a system which kept people from needing to go hospitals in the first place, via community healthcare, improving the social determinants of health, and universal pharmacare. Without bold strategic planning in healthcare, he predicted hospitals would eventually be overrun and the cost of maintaining the system would become untenable.

Today, Canada’s healthcare remains respected around the world, but there are growing signs of strain, and provincial governments in Alberta and Ontario have courted controversy by exploring semi-privatized two-tier approaches. New solutions are required.

How business strategy can change the game

In successful businesses, there is often a focus on defining a high-level strategy which then informs the framework, policies and governance systems a company chooses to best pursue its goals. Meanwhile, in public healthcare there are pre-existing structures (legislation, regulations, agencies) which vary from province to province that limit the kinds of strategies it is possible to employ.

A recent Harvard Business Review piece on how healthcare can adopt strategies honed in retail environments provides an example. Retail businesses have been virtualizing many aspects of the customer experience (think online shopping) for years; their clientele now expect many of the same conveniences in other areas of their lives, including healthcare. Virtual care has long been touted as a means of improving patients’ access to services, improving their odds of being treated before they become ill enough to be hospitalized.

As HBR notes, implementation of virtual care on the broad scale is no small challenge:

“It requires a [healthcare model] designed entirely around in-person interactions and in-house procedures, staffed by professionals who trained and likely practiced for years in these settings and no others, currently operating at or beyond maximum capacity, to now accommodate [clients] through diametrically opposed processes: Caring for patients who are not physically present, using processes in which the clinicians have little formal training, imperfect tools, and only preliminary data.”

Retail businesses must be adaptive to the desires of their customers to keep pace with their competition, and as a result have developed formal change management frameworks and analytics-fueled means of evaluating performance. By learning from this approach, it may be possible for Canada’s health agencies and hospitals to become similarly agile.

Significant opportunities

Universal pharmacare is one example of how centralizing decision-making a la a corporate entity could prove beneficial to Canadians. It would be possible to make a fresh assessment of the goals of the healthcare system; to settle upon the best executive strategy to achieve these goals; and then to institute new frameworks following from this strategy. By bargaining with drug providers as a common market, costs and inefficiencies could be reduced, while more Canadians would be able to fill and maintain their prescriptions.

IoT devices are becoming increasingly central to how the future of healthcare will look. They provide real-time monitoring and diagnostics, helping physicians to track the course of treatment and make modifications based on changes they detect. These appliances can take into account the patient’s medical history, and automatically flag potential problems. But rolling them out as part of the aforementioned virtual care agenda will require consistency, attention to detail and imagination. By looking to corporate data science and technology policies, and taking steps to insulate the process from political flip-flopping, the huge promise of IoT integration may be more easily realized.

Making a difference

Aston University’s MBA program teaches leading-edge insights into business strategy, with a focus on sustainability and social responsibility. For those looking to become leaders in healthcare reform, our MBA puts you in a position to make a difference. Contact us today to speak with a recruitment advisor and browse our brochure.

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