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Careers in the business of healthcare

The healthcare industry is changing, challenging and complex – and it needs managers with skills spanning both business and health.

Australia boasts one of the best healthcare systems in the world and it is the nation’s largest and fastest-growing employment sector.

But since the turn of the 21st century, it’s an industry that’s also been at the forefront of massive change and challenge.

While the hospitals of last century were traditionally managed by medical staff, today’s healthcare organisations are extraordinarily complex and require leaders who not only understand healthcare delivery, but also the intricacies of policy, technology, finance and economic management.

National health report

Healthcare in Australia is funded, managed and delivered by the nation’s federal, state and territory governments, as well as private sector and not-for-profit organisations, to a tune of more than $170 billion per year.

But according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s report Australia’s Health 2018  the sector is also facing a breadth of challenges such as demographic change and demand; coordinated management of chronic conditions; greater availability of health data, and advances in research, science and technology.

It’s a picture backed up by Deloitte’s 2019 Global Health Care Outlook which outlines how ageing and growing populations, chronic disease, and technological innovation will not only push demand and expenditure but also lead to a future with more sustainable, accessible and affordable healthcare models.

What’s driving change?

One of the immediate challenges for Australia’s healthcare industry is the country’s ageing health profile which is being pushed by the 5.5 million “baby boomers” (those born between 1946 – 1965) who are expected to live well into their 80s and demand a sizeable chunk of the public health budget.

Another shift is that for the first time, patients are now more informed and involved in their healthcare that ever before.

Thanks to the revolution in communications technology and the accessibility of information, gone are the days of “doctor knows best”: healthcare systems must now manage not only patient experiences but also expectations.

Meanwhile the relentless march of emerging technology – from big data to digestible diagnostics – continues to play a central role in healthcare development and disruption.

Director of Deakin University’s Master of Business Administration-Healthcare Management (MBA-HCM) Associate Professor Sandeep Reddy, says that while there’s been some ‘exceptional hype’ around the abilities of health technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), there are four key areas that it will most likely impact.

‘These include patient administration, clinical decision support, patient monitoring and healthcare interventions. A health system where AI plays a central role could be termed an AI-enabled or AI-augmented health system,’ he explains

Associate Professor Sandeep Reddy

Assoc. Prof. Reddy suggests that while it’s ‘highly likely’ that AI will be used extensively in healthcare delivery (with huge potential for cost saving and quality improvement) many questions remain.

‘As well as ensuring that  practice and standards are of the highest quality, “soft” issues like fair and open access to data, medico-legal responsibilities in decision making and equitable distribution of benefits have to be addressed. Enthusiasm for change needs to be matched by caution and careful planning,’ he advises.

While the CSIRO’s 2018 Future of Health  report explores industry challenges such access and equity, integration of health services, unsustainable finance structures, ever-evolving regulatory requirements and dated infrastructure, it also identifies the key future enablers as empowered customers, health equity, digitised data, and integrated health solutions.

Skilled healthcare managers required

Against this backdrop is a growing demand for healthcare managers who can not only navigate the rapidly-changing health landscape but also provide leadership across the key business areas of strategic planning, marketing, finance and economic management.

Assoc. Prof. Reddy says that increasingly, more clinicians are enrolling in MBA-HCM in a bid to boost their business skills.

‘Clinical staff can sometimes feel frustrated because even though they are at the coal-face of delivering healthcare they’re often not involved in the bigger-picture decisions that impact their work.’

He suggests there can also be a gap in knowledge and understanding between policymakers and health practitioners.

‘That’s why Deakin’s MBA-HCM is really important because it not only trains students in the aspects of business but also provides teaching on health policies, law, informatics and governance which are all vital to operating large-scale health services.’

Describing the degree, which launched in 2017, as suitable for anyone with an undergraduate degree and at least three years of professional experience, Assoc. Prof. Reddy says many of its students come from a healthcare background.

‘We have executive directors, directors of medicine, directors of emergency departments, surgeons, psychiatrists, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. These people are highly skilled and educated and could choose any healthcare management programs currently on offer but it’s the MBA-HCM’s reputation in the industry that’s seeing them enrol at Deakin. So for a relatively new course, I think we’re doing a good job.’

A unique blend of business and health learning

While the MBA-HCM borrows business principles and theories, Assoc. Prof. Reddy describes the program as firmly grounded in healthcare delivery and health policy.

‘It’s not simply teaching business process, people and operational management but how it applies in a healthcare context – and this is very critical,’ he says.

‘To excel in healthcare management today you need more than business knowledge. It’s a discipline in its own right and needs managers and leaders who not only understand health policies and funding but also the business of healthcare delivery.’

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