The digital health revolution is in full swing, powered by whizzy new technologies that promise to transform patient care by spurring more efficient means of monitoring and managing people’s medical conditions.
Such innovations come at a time of growing cost pressures on global healthcare systems. They promise to help address stretched healthcare providers, who feel the effects of a rapidly ageing population and squeezed public health budgets.
Examples range from wearable tech to measure vital signs and fitness to more futuristic devices such as the digital contact lenses being crafted by Novartis and Google that could help diabetes sufferers by measuring glucose levels in their tear fluid.
Such outlandish ideas are catching the eye of the world’s elite business school students, who may once have sought out careers at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, but are increasingly lured by the prospect of innovation and having a positive impact on society.
“There has never been a more exciting time to be in the healthcare industry,” says Blake Long, chief clinical officer at Mosaic Health Solutions, which invests in companies pioneering innovation in healthcare. “The digital revolution is having a monumental impact,” says Blake, who studied at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, pointing to data analytics, which impacts precision medicine.
The gentle switch to healthcare among MBA students mirrors some of the brightest business minds. David Ebersman for example, former chief financial officer at Facebook, launched Lyra Health, a start-up using big data to aid treatment of depression and anxiety. Phil Mui, head of analytics at Google, swapped search engine for 3D modelling at HeartFlow, a start-up working on diagnosing heart disease.
“We call these people e-health managers,” says Federico Lega, director of the masters in international healthcare management at SDA Bocconi School of Management.
Career opportunities are sprouting at global health giants such as Anthem, Johnson & Johnson and GSK, but also at nimble life sciences start-ups bringing biotechnology to market, and also tech companies like Google, Apple and Samsung, which are exploring digital health.
“There are a number of new fields emerging in the digital revolution,” says Eivor Oborn, professor of healthcare management at Warwick Business School.
Eivor points to three sources of career expansion: analyzing data to inform patient health, health organization efficiency, and medical research. “These are all growth areas,” she says.
“Digital health helps people live more productive lives and in the end, improves society,” says Tuyen, who is on the MBA at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.
The advent of digital means healthcare leaders will increasingly need to keep up with innovations such as wearables, sensors and advanced analytics.
Executives will not need become data scientists or clinicians, but health providers’ strategies are being fashioned by technology. This is reshaping healthcare management programs. “We cover issues such as data and the impact of IT,” says Fred Hagigi, director of health initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
AstraZeneca for example, is among the drug companies using big data to hunt for clues to potentially cure diseases. Google’s nanodiagnostics technology is trying to harness magnetic particles to give early warning of cancer. And Qualcomm, the tech company, is developing remote patient-monitoring systems with Roche.
Wireless tech and data analytics in particular can provide real-time insights into the conditions of patients. Digital technology is allowing for a shift towards early detection of health problems, and even prevention.
“Preventive care and avoiding acute events are huge areas of innovation,” says Dr Rainer Sibbel, chair for international health management at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.
This data gathering can also aid the process of clinical trials, something being tested by GSK and McLaren, the automotive group best known for Formula One racing.
“Getting this data early in the process can help shape better trials with key endpoints that payers, providers and patients will see value in,” says Kimberly MacPherson, co-director of the Center for Health Technology at California’s Haas School of Business.
But future healthcare leaders will have to contend with organizations that are known to be slow-moving.
“There is this buzzword of disruptive innovation but the problem is, a lot of managers fear the disruptive part,” says Frankfurt School’s Rainer. “It could change your traditional business model tremendously.”
Another problem is the fragmented nature of healthcare data, and concerns over privacy and security. “The handoff of information between healthcare providers is abysmally inefficient,” says Jonathon Feit, pictured left, MBA and chief executive of Beyond Lucid Technologies, which makes software for capturing and transmitting electronic patient records.
While the full force of tech in healthcare is yet to be felt, changes in the way organizations and their managers operate are already underway. This has led to an increase in job offers and acceptances for MBA students.
“Many see significant changes evolving in the industry as a result of the Affordable Care Act, leveraging technology, and managing pricing pressures. They want to help drive this change,” says Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, executive director for careers at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management.
But ultimately, the benefit to society is why the world’s future business leaders flock to healthcare, says Dean Vera, director of career management at Rutgers Business School.
“Choosing an industry that helps improve and save the lives of people around the world is the most cited reason.”