Where the Board Room Meets the Exam Room: Bringing Business & Tech Leaders to Healthcare’s Frontlines

By Sachin H. Jain, MD, MBA, FACP
August 2, 2019

Many healthcare start-ups fail because they often take a single perspective on healthcare problems, one that’s based on their own personal experience. One example is the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). Data companies that created these systems had little initial understanding of how clinicians or patients interacted with this information.

In a recent Forbes article, the author, Sachin Jain, describes that one way to develop a comprehensive view of healthcare attitudes, values, and experiences is through education. Special programs have been established to provide business leaders with a better understanding of healthcare systems.

For example, Harvard Medical School has an executive education program that includes classroom discussions and field trips to clinical settings where participants shadow and observe physicians at work.

One participant in this program was a product manager for Google Search, where 5% of all queries are health related. He and his team spent four hours a day observing healthcare professionals as they worked, which helped them to develop empathy for both doctors and patients and to understand how to provide query responses that were not alarming to users.

session-2548826_960_720Other similar educational programs are available through institutions like Johns Hopkins University and Cornell University, in addition to still more offered by healthcare delivery systems.

Along with helping tech leaders, these programs are also useful ways for people to learn more about other parts of the healthcare system. For example, those involved in claims processing can reconnect with the human element of their service by participating in such programs.


Looked at one-way, good workflow is like an exotic ballroom dance, for when it’s done right, everyone seems to slide in position almost effortlessly. The truth, however, is that such a dance hides a great deal of complexity.

In reality, for people to cooperate smoothly, they have to know how things work on a broad level, and that may include understanding other people’s roles as well as their own. That’s particularly true in the case of the healthcare industry, which calls for professionals to perform demanding specialized tasks while maintaining an effective team structure.

Given all of this, it’s little wonder that outsiders often fail to figure out what it takes to meet the cultural and professional demands of such teams. It’s not good enough for, say, an EHR company to really know how doctors, nurses, and support staffers use patient records; the company probably needs to know why team members do so, whether their existing routines work as well as possible, and what transformational steps are impossible to improve their performance as a group.

Unfortunately, such misunderstandings may persist even when insiders have taken the time to observe healthcare processes and ask questions. After all, it’s one thing to watch cars go by on a road and quite another to sit behind the wheel and drive. There are many things that separate watching from driving; perhaps the most salient is the experience of risk—you might never learn how car designs are best for you until you become afraid that you might hit a pedestrian.

Knowing this, it’s probably in providers’ best interests to share as much knowledge as they can with outside organizations, even if they don’t anticipate using their products or services. Healthcare is hard, and it never hurts to have a well-informed cheering section.

Article appeared in Forbes, May 14, 2019

Topics: Leadership

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