November 26, 2020

Stanford master’s degree program teaches tech, business skills for health care leaders

As a health services researcher and health economist, my job is to find a way to reduce the cost of great care. I literally feel bad at the end of the day if we haven’t made progress on that goal. It’s even our tagline at my academic home, the Clinical Excellence Research Center at Stanford.

Over the years, I’ve taught and created education programs around the issue of innovation in health care — at Duke University and then at Harvard Business School — before coming to Stanford Medicine in 2018. In these classes, students realize that solutions with the strongest potential for success draw equally on expertise in business, technology and medicine.

At Duke, I built a master’s degree program to develop future health care leaders with expertise that spans these key disciplines. Now, we’re launching the Stanford Medicine version, the Master of Science in Clinical Informatics Management (MCiM).

This year-long curriculum weaves together core business courses in such areas as finance and marketing, with classes unpacking data science, visualization and architecture. There is an ethics seminar, a biodesign course through our collaboration with the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, and a practicum project, so students can work individually or within teams to craft ways to harness technology to reduce health care costs and improve quality.

The MCiM program is designed for people seeking a new set of skills to move their careers forward, so we’ve scheduled the classes around the traditional work week. Students will get an immediate benefit — they’ll learn something on the weekend about some new approach, some new strategy, some new insight, and be able to bring that back to work on Monday. Students will take a problem that they see every day, and think about how technology and business models can come together to solve it.

I’m excited to see the innovations that will emerge.

Back in 2010, we started the Duke program in response to the HITECH Act, which encouraged the nation’s hospitals and health systems to adopt electronic medical records. Government officials estimated it would take 100,000 people with specialized skills to make the conversion a success. We quickly realized that success required leaders who understood the technology involved, but also had the business skills to implement that technology in a clinical setting.

Ten years later, about 250 people have graduated from the program, and many have moved to leadership roles in their departments, institutions or companies. They’re part of this growing cadre of leaders who are helping us figure out how tech can transform the industry, make it more efficient, and provide much-needed cost savings.

As a nation, a lot of things we’ve tried haven’t worked to make progress on the triple aim of cost, quality and access– I write a lot about this. We play with insurance models — but we haven’t seen much of a reduction in the cost of care. We’ve tried incentive models to get hospitals to change — but we haven’t seen much of a difference in the cost of care. So, if we’re going to really come up with solutions, we’re going to have to try different pathways, and to me, the technology and the business pathway is one that shows the most promise.

Moving out west to Silicon Valley and Stanford, I’ve noticed that there’s this incredible optimism about solving big problems.

One of the biggest problems of our generation is the cost of health care in the United States.

Let’s get to work.

Kevin Schulman, MD, MBA, is a professor of medicine and clinical hospitalist at Stanford, and a professor, by courtesy, of economics at the Graduate School of Business. He is the director of the MCiM program at Stanford. As a member of the Clinical Excellence Research Center, he studies ways to reduce the cost of high-quality care.

Photo by Sarah Pflug

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