What’s Missing in Modern Medicine?

A new breed of MDs thinks an MBA is the cure for an ailing healthcare system.

David Riley

“I think physicians should be more involved in management and administrative issues to allow those processes to be better aligned with what goes on at the bedside,” Riley says

Neonatologist David Riley was adept at placing central arterial lines for sick newborns. But navigating the inefficiencies within the healthcare system was a different story. Now, as a second-year student in the Texas MBA at Dallas/Fort Worth program, he is learning the management skills to help keep his industry from flatlining.

Riley graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1997. After his pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship, he became a fully certified neonatologist in 2004. He joined the Pediatrix Medical Group of Texas in 2007 and began caring for newborn babies needing intensive care in hospitals around Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He says he became interested in pediatric medicine because it is equal parts challenging and hopeful.

“Babies are incredibly resilient,” Riley says. “They just have a miraculous ability to heal themselves and get better.” Seeing his young patients improve is particularly significant for him. “It’s gratifying to know that when you have a positive impact, they have their whole life in front of them and you sent them out into the world to realize whatever potential they have.”

For Riley, that potential pushes him through even the most difficult days.

“No matter how hard you’re working and how tired you are, it’s easy to motivate yourself when you’re dealing with those kinds of outcomes.”

As a doctor, Riley says he can see what is working well in healthcare and what isn’t. While health professionals are providing quality care and making innovative discoveries every day, the industry itself could benefit from a more businesslike organization and streamlined processes, he says.

For example, while hospitals are moving from traditional medical recordkeeping to electronic record management, administrative and insurance organizations have been slow to make that change, leading to duplicate records. Riley says that his experience in the healthcare industry encouraged him to enroll in business school, and he hopes he can use his MBA to further reforms.

“If you look at physicians and people in the medical field, they don’t really know too much about business. And when you look at people in industry and certainly when you look at politicians, they don’t understand medical care very well,” Riley says. “I felt like a lot of the decisions regarding policy and the structure for reform and funding were being made in a way that was blind to what matters as far as providing quality care and access to care.”

Riley chose to be proactive and educate himself on the business side of healthcare. He believes that reforms would be more comprehensive if more doctors were informed about business.

“I think some aspects of MBA training should be incorporated into medical school, such as basic management, operations, and finance,” Riley says. “I think physicians should be more involved in management and administrative issues to allow those processes to be better aligned with what goes on at the bedside.”

Riley is not alone in this sentiment. According to the Association of MD/MBA Programs, there are more than 65 dual-degree programs across the United States. Students in these programs earn their MD and MBA simultaneously, learning both the medical and the business sides of healthcare.

According to Riley, his McCombs education has helped him understand how business processes work, and it has given him a new perspective on how healthcare management can be improved.

“Spending a good part of your life in medicine, it’s very easy to essentially have your head in the sand about everything else that is going on around you,” Riley says. “I never really thought a lot in detail about what’s required to run an organization well and efficiently. The biggest thing I’ve gotten from my McCombs experience is that it’s opened my eyes to all these different elements that surround the function of a business, from marketing to accounting to HR.”

Riley believes his business degree will afford him more opportunities both inside and outside of the medical industry. “It’s invaluable,” Riley says. “It’s been incredibly eye-opening to learn how the world works outside of my field.”

Originally Published in Open Magazine, McCombs Today

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