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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Leading the business of health

Markus Saba, a retired senior executive at Eli Lilly and Company, is serving as executive director of the Center for the Business of Health. He is also a professor of the practice of marketing and is leading the MBA health care concentration.

With more than $3 trillion spent annually, the American health care sector is equivalent to the fifth largest economy in the world. 

But this booming business also faces an array of challenges: affordability, access, outcome variations and concerns about regulation and policy. To address these complex issues, Kenan-Flagler Business School recently launched the Center for the Business of  Health.

This multidisciplinary effort spans Carolina’s campus, bringing together the University’s leading health sciences divisions—including the top-ranked schools of pharmacy, public health, nursing, dentistry and medicine—with the schools of business, social work, information and library science and law as well as departments in the College of Arts & Sciences. By building on this collaborative powerhouse of talent, Kenan-Flagler seeks to distinguish itself and the University as leading national voices in the business of health care.

Brad Staats

“Carolina believes in collaboration in a way that not every university does,” said Brad Staats, faculty director of the Center for the Business of Health and professor of operations at Kenan-Flagler. “Health care is increasingly an interdisciplinary issue, and the real challenges facing health care are not going to get solved by any one person. As we figure out the science of how to do things better, there is the opportunity to improve health outcomes, reduce costs and improve access for more patients.”

The center will conduct theoretical research for academic journals as well as applied research on challenges faced by health care organizations. These projects take a team approach to scholarship, involving researchers
from across schools at Carolina. This top-notch team focuses on three areas:

Creating knowledge

Eva Labro

Kenan-Flagler has a number of active business researchers in health care. Staats focuses on issues around learning while accounting professor Eva Labro is interested in managerial accounting in health care organizations. Marketing professor Sriram Venkataraman researches pricing and promotion issues in health care. Mike Christian, organizational behavior professor, is working with Cheryl Jones, a professor at the School of Nursing, to research burnout in the nursing profession.

“We’re excited about creating connections between researchers throughout the campus and beyond,” Staats said. Members of the new Industry Advisory Board, comprised of C-suite executives from health care companies from across the United States, are eager to partner on research initiatives.

Research by interdisciplinary student teams and doctoral students is an element of the center’s focus on education.

Staats recounts a recent meeting with a doctoral student
who was presenting work on rural health and rural hospital
issues. “At the end of his presentation, I talked with him about
the people he needs to meet with in the Gillings School of
Global Public Health,” Staats said. “Two years ago, that never would have happened because we didn’t have those relation-ships established.”

Preparing business leaders

Kenan-Flagler is committed to preparing future leaders for transformational careers related to health care. Currently 15 percent of Kenan-Flagler MBA students work in health care after graduation.

“There are already a number of great things going on at Kenan-Flagler, and now we are adding to that as well as creating infrastructure at the school level to support this effort,” Staats said.

The Undergraduate Business Program is offering new electives, the MBA concentration in health care will be strengthened and center leaders will guide collaboration with schools throughout the campus on cross-disciplinary educational offerings.

Markus Saba, a retired senior executive at Eli Lilly and Company, is serving as executive director of the Center for the Business of Health. Saba joined the faculty as a professor of the practice of marketing and is leading the MBA health care concentration after serving as an adjunct faculty member since 2011.  

“I am very excited to be a part of this important initiative at Kenan-Flagler, where school leaders have made health care a top priority,” Saba said. “Our students amaze me on a daily basis —their focus, passion and knowledge of health care is remarkable. We have a rich variety of electives that bring cutting-edge content taught by renowned faculty and leading industry experts.
Finally, hearing from employers about how well prepared our students are as they enter the health care industry is very rewarding.”

The center supports Kenan-Flagler’s health science dual-degree programs: doctor of pharmacy/master of business administration with the Eshelman School of Pharmacy;
master of health administration/MBA and master of science in public health/MBA with the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and doctor of medicine/MBA with the School
of Medicine.

Convening conversations

One of the ways the center convenes health care practitioners, policymakers and academics is the annual UNC Business of Health Care Conference.

The third area of focus is convening important conversations with key industry and governmental stakeholders, creating a neutral ground for breakthrough discussions and developments. “When we brought together the industry advisory board, one of the big things they brought up was a reminder about the University’s role as an honest broker to have conversations,” Staats said. “We can bring folks together to ask difficult questions and offer some of our own perspectives in order to try to strengthen the practice of health care.”

Convening efforts include the annual Business of Health Care Conference, a premier event that unites practitioners, policymakers and academics to improve value creation in health care. Future events will assemble a wide range of stakeholders to explore a variety of topics such as delivery payment models, digital health, pharmaceutical pricing, the opioid crisis, ethical decision making by providers and quality improvement in delivery.

White papers are disseminated to share the thought leadership at Carolina. Center leaders bring together academics from diverse disciplines and backgrounds in research workshops to advance scholarship and uncover new opportunities for collaboration.

“At our best we are a catalyst,” Staats said. “We do a number of things well, but we enable others to do even more.”

North Carolina is the perfect place to be exploring issues around the business of health care. “If you look at many of the big issues that affect the U.S. right nowincluding the urban rural divide and economic developmentNorth Carolina is at the heart of them,” he said. “While this initiative has global implications, if we do this right, we will impact our state and that gives us leverage to impact the rest of the country and the world.”