Health care providers should put finances aside, focus on patients

The mixture of health care and business principles is something complex.

It is not uncommon to hear complaints, such as, “They are making a killing on the amount this hospital charges for care!”

Currently, the GOP candidates are focused on repealing the health care reform put forth by the Obama administration, returning health care to a more business-oriented endeavor. I fear the day when we see all hospitals become a profiteering venture because then only the most affluent will have quality access to health care.

We would like to believe that hospitals or other institutions related to health care exist only to serve us out of the goodness of their figurative hearts, but that seems like an unrealistic belief. Just like any other service provider, they are a business.

But when it comes to health care, sometimes it necessary to set the business principles aside to see that patients receive the care that they need.

Sheena Bhayana, senior in AHS, learned this the hard way while applying for an internship with Healthscape Consulting, LLC, a company that helps health care providers navigate their way through the ever-changing health care scene. As a community health major, Bhayana believed that her studies would give her an edge over the other finance and engineering majors applying for the same job. But she was wrong.

She said the firm was not interested in her because she didn’t have the technical background that other applicants had, even though the woman leading the pre-interview process had said earlier that she was able to learn the business aspects of health care consulting on the job. The importance that the woman placed on the technical aspects reflects the emphasis on the business element, when they should be focusing on the human element.

So, what was the cause of this dissidence? Shouldn’t someone who had worked in hospitals for hundreds of hours and had studied the health care system extensively, like Bhayana, be a better health care advisor than, say, those who only had knowledge of finance or accounting?

This past summer, Jeff Keegan, senior in Business, had the opportunity to work at Healthscape in the same position for which Bhayana had interviewed. While working there, he found that many people who work in management positions in health care believed that the focus should be on the patients, but it was necessary for health care providers to still pay their bills and sustain operations.

Even though health care is a business, it is unlike any other.

Stephen Notaro, professor in community health at the University, said that “survival of (health care) is paramount because if it doesn’t survive, you can’t treat anyone.”

Many have said people are at the heart of the business of health care, but as Notaro pointed out, traditional business principles don’t exactly align with health care.

The business side focuses more on the process, such as the amount of patients that are seen and treated, versus the quality of care. The more people that can be treated and the more times that doctors can treat them allow hospitals to make more money.

Because there is a focus on volume over quality, health care costs are on the rise, Notaro said. If we were able to provide better primary care in order to prevent repeat visits to the hospital, costs would come down. But is that even possible considering that hospitals are a business always in need of making more money?

If health care’s primary goal is to provide patients with a quality service, the argument follows that someone who has studied and worked extensively in health care would be better equipped to make decisions for health care providers. That does not mean that businessmen who have only worked from an office should be the only ones running hospitals. Those who have first-hand experience working with patients and witnessing what actually happens in the emergency and operating rooms also have an important function.

It’s easy to forget that “the fundamental reason (hospitals) exist is the patient,” said Annie Wang, sophomore in Business and vice president of development for Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations. “Business people tend to forget this sometimes. It’s not all about the money.”

If the goal of health management is to provide patients with adequate care, then number crunching is not the answer. Management needs to know how different sectors are run and managed, and only this knowledge can improve the health of the population and improve the American health care system.

Decisions in the health care business should be about what is best for the patient, even if it may not be the best financial decision.

_Ryan is a sophomore in LAS._