Home to 25 hospitals and 20 community health centers, several ranked among the best in the country, the city of Boston is considered a global leader in the health care and life sciences industries—a fact not lost on Harvard Business School faculty and students. The faculty have long been interested in the health care industry, reflected in their 2,800 articles, books, case studies, and papers published on this topic. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the MBA Health Care Club exceeded 300 members, and 36 students were enrolled in the joint degree MD/MBA program.

In recent months, twelve HBS faculty toured hospitals and health care organizations around the Boston area as part of a day-long excursion. Dubbed “Health Care Delivery in Boston: Fostering Innovation in a Cost-Constrained Environment”, the excursion was sponsored by the Division of Research & Faculty Development (DRFD) and led by Health Care Initiative Faculty Chair Rob Huckman and Director Cara Sterling. “Given that we have so many industry leaders and innovators right here in Boston,” Huckman explained, “We wanted to connect some of them with our faculty, tour their operations, and spur insightful conversations.”

At Boston Medical Center, faculty met with Chief Operating Officer Alastair Bell (MBA 2006), President and CEO Kate Walsh, and other hospital executives. As the largest safety net hospital and busiest trauma center in New England, BMC is an intensive provider of care for uninsured patients, free screenings, and community outreach programs. The group discussed BMC’s efforts related to curbing addiction, helping at-risk youth, and violence intervention.

Faculty learned about the challenges BMC faces in addressing the needs of its underserved population, which often stretch beyond medical issues into unemployment, mental health, food insecurity, and a lack of affordable housing. Huckman explained, “Given the unique role BMC plays in the community, its leadership team appears to be constantly thinking about how its providers can engage in upstream intervention with patients to help maintain health and avoid the need for hospitalization.” With the introduction of a new on-site pharmacy, BMC has established better drug adherence and compliance among high-risk patients who do not regularly engage with care providers.

At Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), HBS faculty met with Chief Surgeon Gerald M. Doherty, MD, Chair of Anesthesiology James Rathmell, MD, and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Walls, MD. BWH is consistently ranked among the world’s best hospitals in cancer treatment, cardiovascular care, and other specialties. It is also home to the National Center for Image-Guided Therapy, the National Institutes of Health’s central resource for all aspects of research into image-guided procedures.

The visit focused on BWH’s work to increase utilization of key fixed assets, including its operating rooms. As part of their tour, faculty visited BWH’s state-of-the-art Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) suite. One of the first such operating suites in the world, the AMIGO suite contains three separate yet integrated procedure rooms—an MRI room, operating room, and PET/CT room—allowing medical teams to move easily throughout the facility to access any of the imaging and surgical technologies available while a patient is on the operating table. 

“It was great to follow our BMC visit with a visit to BWH,” Huckman noted. “Both hospitals have distinct challenges that complement those they share in common.” He continued, “In both cases, these challenges have their roots in key management issues.”

At IBM Watson Health in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, faculty met with Byron C. Scott, MD, Deputy Chief Health Officer with Simpler Consulting, IBM Watson Health, and toured the Watson Experience Center, a 360-degree room and multimedia center that demonstrates Watson’s capabilities.

IBM ventured into health care with the launch of IBM Watson Health in 2015 and grew the unit through a series of acquisitions and partnerships with major hospitals, drug makers, and other companies. IBM Watson Health uses machine learning algorithms to find patterns in health care data to help physicians provide more efficient and effective care. Watson can help identify possible diagnoses that human physicians might not think to consider, potentially eliminating biases. “We hear a lot about Watson, and faculty are familiar with the debates surrounding its use in health care,” Huckman explained. “It was very informative to get a closer look at how the technology is being used.”

Faculty also explored the legacy of innovation in the Boston area at the Paul S. Russell, MD, Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital. The museum tells the story of MGH and its contributions to medicine through interactive displays, artifacts, and photographs. As part of this visit, the group toured the Ether Dome at MGH, the site of the first public surgery using anesthesia. Thomas Feeley, MD, Senior Fellow at HBS and Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, along with Mark Kelley, MD, Director of Faculty Leadership in the MGH Department of Medicine, recounted how the practice of medicine has changed over the course of their careers. “Through these conversations, faculty learned more about MGH’s early innovations and how those advancements shaped the present state of medicine,” Sterling explained. 

From learning about early medical breakthroughs at MGH and artificial intelligence and machine learning at IBM Watson Health, to upstream intervention initiatives at Boston Medical Center and cutting-edge surgical technology at Brigham & Women’s Health, this excursion, one of a series offered to HBS faculty, provided a unique opportunity to understand first-hand what innovation means across varied health care settings.

For more information about faculty research in health care, see http://www.hbs.edu/healthcare.