May 26, 2024

Health Benefit

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Combining Hard Data with Soft Skills

4 min read

At some schools, Adelman said, the students come to class, complete a
project, and they’re done. “They aren’t held accountable for the
discipline-based learning they receive.” He’s developing what he
considers “more of a Chicago version of experience-based learning, which
leverages our unique strengths.” Students in his course not only must
master content-anchored statistics and analytics work, but as part of
the soft-skills training they have to draft team contracts, write
personal reflections, and submit peer feedback. Communication skills are
key. Every two weeks, each team makes a presentation to update the rest
of the class on their research. Adelman critiques the content, flow,
and persuasiveness, as well as the student’s speaking style and body
language.

For student Yizhen Dong, an early
presentation, when Adelman had a public-speaking coach on site, was an
eye opener. “I say a lot of ‘ums,’ and I fill in words that don’t add
any value to the presentation,” Dong realized. “It’s something I’m
trying to work on.”

The chance to combine data analytics
with the soft skills—presentation, team dynamics, and storytelling—is
unique, said Harry L. Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished
Service Professor of Creative Management, who pioneered experience-based
learning at Booth in the 1980s. “This is, in a sense, a start-up, with
really interesting opportunities for you here at Booth that you cannot
get anywhere else,” Davis told students in the first class session.

Preparing for the Big Reveal

By
the June 3 class presentation, the UCM team has identified that, in the
roughly six months the hospital’s new protocol has been in place, the
intervention patients each received an extra 90 minutes of care. The
cost savings from the intervention would be $385,000 a year—the
equivalent of three new nurse practitioner hires.

The
students have also distilled the predictive algorithm to eight yes-or-no
questions for the hospital staff to assess on each patient’s admission.
They have found the questionnaire to achieve the same predictive effect
as the far more complicated medical models cited in the published
literature on this topic.

Adelman appreciates their data
insights—and he also knows this is a dress rehearsal of sorts for the
team’s presentation next week at the hospital. The professor offers some
directorial advice: “Start thinking how the different components fit
together, and you can build some drama.”

Showing Them the Money

It’s
8 a.m. on Wednesday, June 10. In a small lecture hall at UCM, the
cardiology team, as well as the hospital’s C-suite executives, awaits
answers—from Booth students. The students wear jackets and ties, skirts
and heels; the vascular surgeons are still in their scrubs.

Francoz
sets the stage: “UCM has an above-average rate of readmissions. But
even if you control for poor case mix, it’s still in the middle of the
pack.” Each student takes the floor in turn and advances the narrative.
They look sharp; they sound knowledgeable and well rehearsed. The entire
presentation has momentum and confidence, poise, éclat.

Yang
unveils the key finding around the intervention protocol: “It was
effective . . . but not that effective. OK, so now we can all go home
and relax.” She has the cardiologists laughing. The students lay out the
numbers, explain the analysis, and give recommendations to the senior
executives. They recommend that to achieve statistical significance, the
program would need 420 participants in the intervention group and 420
in the control group. That would take about a year.

Tabit
listens, rapt, and says he couldn’t be more pleased. “The quality of
analysis is just superb. It’s easily the equivalent of what we would
have gotten from a consulting firm. The capabilities of these students
are amazing.”

Sanghani says she can’t believe how much
was accomplished between January and June. “I would love to have you
guys keep going with the data.”

“Is this class every quarter?” interjects cardiologist Kirk T. Spencer. “Because we have lots of problems.”

Searching for the Next Problem

Indeed,
Adelman is currently seeking the kinds of problems that will challenge
his next cohort of students when the course begins again this spring.
Meanwhile, the UCM cardiology team continues to build on the insights
from the Booth report. “The model they came up with was very
impressive,” Tabit said. “It has performed remarkably well. It has only
eight variables, so it’s easy to work with. We have put it into a larger
risk-stratification scheme. It’s by far the most important piece of the
model.”

The Booth student findings led the hospital to
streamline their process and better predict patient risk. In the July
through October period, readmissions fell to between 8 and 9 percent.
UCM Medicare payment penalties are down to 0.38 percent for fiscal 2016
from 0.54 percent in 2015. “For $100 per patient, I can reduce
readmissions by 50 percent,” Tabit said. Assume each readmission costs
the hospital around $10,000. “That’s a tremendous cost savings to the
health system. The Booth project let us figure out which patients need
these aggressive interventions and which don’t.”

Adelman
is rightfully proud. “The analyses were just impressive,” he said.
“They certainly lived up to the school’s reputation. Any sponsors
sitting there had to be thinking, ‘Damn, these guys are good.’”

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