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Health Innovation: Institutionalizing the Teachable Moment with GENiE


William Looney reports on last week's Global Educators Network for Health Care Innovation Education meeting, focused on shared learning and best practices to drive reforms in both the public and private sectors.

One of the pleasures of editing Pharm Exec is to search out new and emerging stakeholders with an impact on how we “do” innovation in the biggest sector of the US economy – health care.  That quest led me last week to a meeting of a unique network of 19 US and European academic programs focused on building an inventory of shared learning and best practices in health innovation to drive reforms in both the public and private sectors.  The Global Educators Network for Health Care Innovation Education [GENiE www.thegeniegroup.org] was founded in 2012 to advance the idea that for health care to change, the education of its leaders must change first.  

GENiE’s basic mission – to make innovation a central element in the education of future leaders in health care – emerged from a research survey of 59 health care CEOs conducted by Professor Regina Herzlinger of the Harvard Business School that documented how graduate education programs were not giving the CEOs the future talent pool they required to build and execute around a more innovative business model.  Among other flaws, the survey revealed that current education tracks were too specialized, theoretical and prescriptive, with little effort being made to induce the characteristics of spontaneity, adaptability and cross-functional awareness needed to navigate successfully in a real world of unpredictable, disruptive change.  

 GENiE has met as a group three times, at Harvard Business School, the Duke Medical School and the University of Alabama at Birmingham [UAB].    The network now comprises more than 200 experts drawn not only from academia, including major schools of business, public health, nursing and medicine, but from professional practice groups, consultancies, and industry as well.  GENiE also draws on 16 CEO Champions, including “c suite” leaders from J&J, Amgen, Medtronic, Cardinal Health, Athenahealth, and the American Medical Association.  McKinsey, Bain Capital and KPMG represent the consultancy world while a global perspective is offered by participating CEOs from Discovery Health [South Africa], Medwell Ventures [India] and Amil Participacoes SA [Brazil.]  

Five cores forward 

The objective of the May 7-8 meeting at UAB’s Collat School of Business, chaired by Herzlinger and UAB Professor Rubin Pillay, was “building curriculum and community.”  Consensus was taken to go forward on the following:

(1) avoid new formalized accreditation criteria for health innovation studies but to find practical ways to highlight this area as a distinctive field and to benchmark and recognize best practices in teaching/training, particularly for mid-career professional education;  

(2) expand, share and disseminate case study teaching aids, modeled on discursive approaches appropriate to a business climate marked by ambiguity at every turn, meaning a strong case study  should never exhibit a bias toward one answer;

(3) impart practical, real world urgency to curriculum development, organized around a single basic assertion:  that there is no task in business more difficult today than bringing a regulated health product successfully to market;

(4) solicit additional examples of innovative health practices outside the US and Europe, especially in Asia and Africa, where reforms are more scalable and can be introduced at lower cost; and

(5) place more emphasis in the health innovation curriculum on computer science information technology [CSIT] –  not to be confused with health informatics], marketing and public communications capabilities [you can’t sell innovation unless you can pitch it], and pricing/market access strategy, where innovation on the payer side is dramatically changing behaviors in all areas of health care.

There was also endorsement of the inherent inter-disciplinary nature of innovation, which led to an interesting definition of a successful teaching curricula:  while at the outset of a program it should be simple to identify which students come from a business or a medical or a public health background, at the end of the program it should be impossible to do so.  

The most objectionable single word identified by the group?  Silos:  of behavior, thought and principle.  All these characteristics remain endemic in health care, with anecdotes abounding, like the majority of new US medical school grads who believe Medicare and Medicaid are the same program.  Its another reason why professional education in health must cross and combine disciplines because, while there is no “magic bullet” to solve the sector’s problems, this one comes closest.   

With more than 400 potential breakthrough medicines coming on stream through the end of the decade, there is also the pregnant question of whether big Pharma itself has the innovative chops to make it all happen.  The outcome depends heavily on the quality and effective use of human capital – people and talent.  Does industry have that talent, in sufficient numbers, with the right mix of skills, transferable across functions and geographies, and capable of being passed forward to the next generation?  It’s a key strategic issue for the “c-suite:”   Education matters and so too does GENiE.          

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