I now know what it’s like to be a celebrity. Well, sort of. At every conference, people stop me to introduce themselves and hand me their business cards. They are usually sales or business development people with innovations that they want me to buy. As an executive at Kaiser Permanente (KP), a $55 billion revenue integrated healthcare company, I’m a key contact for healthcare entrepreneurs in particular.
In my role as Director of Healthcare Transformation for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, I’m accountable for finding and fostering innovations that create value for our patients. This is a lot harder than it sounds. There are thousands of healthcare products and services. Health and wellness apps and wearables, sensors and trackers, cloud services and analytics — it’s impossible to list, never mind evaluate, them all.
So how do I separate the wheat from the chaff? I have hunches of what might be a winner versus a loser, but intuition has proven a poor tool for prediction. Picking winners is hard work and requires not instinct, but discipline. These 5 approaches to decision-making I learned from my MBA at the Rady School of Management have made me a more effective and efficient director.
- Start with the problem. It is a natural tendency for us to be attracted to the new and shiny, and nowhere is this more apparent than in healthcare. No matter how beautiful the product, lasting value comes only from solving a customer need. Professor Del Foit in the Rady School’s capstone Lab to Market course sequence reminded us of this point over and over: First identify the job the customer is trying to do, then find the product or service that does that better than what’s currently available.
- Be Data Driven. It is a truth universally known that all diabetics would track their blood glucose on their phone if they could. Or is it? Many assumptions can be converted to facts with the right questions and analyses. In my Rady School MBA classes, we interviewed customers and designed conjoint analyses. Knowledge of these tools and statistical skills are invaluable in picking winners. In today’s competitive world, having the advantage of data makes all the difference.
- Understand you and your company first. In Prof. Pedro Rey’s strategy course we came to know and love competitive strategy. Understanding that your company cannot be all things to all customers is an “ah ha!” moment that provides a framework for you to make decisions about what your company should, and more importantly, should not do. A game-changing technology will do you no good if it is not consonant with your company’s strategy. A digital health platform that increases referrals would be of little value to our members who are best served by KP’s team approach to care.
- If you build it, will they use it? In Prof. Vish Krishnan’s section of Lab to Market, we studied the HBR classic Endonav case. In it an elegantly brilliant innovation improved the safety and efficacy of endoscopies but it was a failure. Without engaging the gastroenterologist, who would have used the device, the product never saw the light of the inner colon and was never used. Understand who would be using the innovation and engage them early and often.
- Skate to where the puck will be. Wayne Gretsky famously said his success was due to his ability to skate not where the puck is, but where it will be. It’s a useful metaphor for business — pick innovations that will create value in the future. Prof. Darius Sanosky taught us scenario planning, an academic discipline. His model helps me envision how healthcare might look in the future and assign probabilities for different scenarios. For example, consumerization is a powerful driver in healthcare right now and understanding the impact helps me identify those innovations that will be valuable to our patients in the future.
My Rady School MBA has added business acumen and clearly differentiated me from other physicians with similar interests. Even before finishing my first year at Rady, I was asked to join an executive board for a telehealth company and have received a steady stream of contacts from recruiters since then. At Kaiser Permanente, I’ve since been asked to join national committees and have been selected to participate in our internal leadership development, which is a competitive tract.
The convergence of healthcare reform, emerging technologies and shift to value-based business models has resulted in a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to disrupt healthcare. Unfortunately, medical school and residency don’t prepare doctors to solve business problems. The decision to pursue an MBA at Rady dramatically increased the demand for my expertise and has proven just as useful as what I learned in gross anatomy. Except at the Rady School, no formaldehyde was required for the learning.
Jeff Benabio, MD, is a Rady School MBA alumni (FlexWeekend ’15) and the Physician Director of Healthcare Transformation at Kaiser Permanente. When he isn’t practicing medicine or blogging, he can found on a Southwest Airlines flight most likely reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt or Winston Churchill on his kindle.