MIT Sloan Health Systems Initiative

Healthcare Lab Students Recommend Actionable Remedies to Real-World Challenges

Healthcare Lab Students

Healthcare Lab students onsite

Healthcare Lab Students Recommend Actionable Remedies to Real-World Challenges
Some of the best experiences students have at Sloan are those that give them a chance to apply the skills learned in the classroom. Healthcare Lab, taught by senior lecturer Anne Quaadgras and professor Jónas Jónasson, includes group projects that pair student teams with local host companies to address a specific challenge. This class has blossomed in popularity. Last year 25 students from a range of programs at MIT completed the demanding course work. This year 47 stepped up to the plate.
This course combines lectures, many with guest speakers, along with the group project. Throughout, students are prompted to think about a variety of business challenges and opportunities that arise in the healthcare industry. Participants think about how the financial and organizational structures drive delivery-systems designs and operations. They wrestle with using data-driven, analytical, and scientific business approaches to obtain better (financially and clinically) system performance and decision support tools. It’s not just about developing systems and new IT solutions, they also think about the difficulties of implementing new business and clinical models with these new approaches and tools.
This semester a dozen guest speakers from a wide variety of healthcare sectors and backgrounds will share their experience with a specific topic. Every guest speaker is asked to talk about their involvement in COVID-19 response, which gives the students an up-to-date perspective they may not hear otherwise. COVID-19 is relevant not only as a lecture topic, but for the first time, the class is being taught completely virtually, which provides an opportunity to practice a way of working that may be an integral part of their work life as well.
A huge draw for students is the opportunity to apply what they are learning in a real-world team project. One-third of the projects directly relate to COVID-19 and various underserved populations. All project meetings are done remotely, and students will have to incorporate the realities of the pandemic in their recommendations.
The companies are a combination of in-patient, out-patient and services providers. The hosts speak highly of the student teams. One of the 2018 projects was to improve the operational efficiency of the pathology department at MGH. One of the hosts commented, “the final product is really amazing. It is really something you can do things with. It’s a set of practical solutions, and a proposed timeline for implementation”.
One of the projects this year, an out-patient strategy challenge, is with Boston Medical Center to address racial and ethnic health disparities within BMC’s primary care patient populations. After a deep dive to tease out and categorize the issues, the host would like the team to recommend implementable, sustainable changes.
Quest Diagnostics presents an operations management problem. They are asking a Healthcare Lab team to establish an optimal production model across 22 of their laboratories for the approximately 25 million allergen tests per year that they perform for patients on over 400 allergens. The goal is to balance cost and service (turn-around time) for patients and physicians. The solution should help improve their operational cost structure, thereby increasing accessibility of allergen testing to patients nationwide. The team is asked not only for the model, but also a plan to implement it successfully.
Students speak highly of the course, and of the team project in particular. The work with the hosts provides a view that cannot be taught in a lecture. One student commented, “The project itself taught you how to interact with the organization, to get your hands dirty. You see how things are working on a day-to-day basis.  At the end of the class you definitely realize the system is as complex and probably more complex than you thought it was before you went in, but you also see that there are many opportunities to improve the system and you see so many people from industry and from academic settings who are really committed to making those changes”.
The project also gives the students opportunity to learn about themselves, “I Learn many things from my colleagues. I learn from my teachers. I learn from my hosts. I learn from everybody, and I hope others have learned from me. The exchange of knowledge, of experience in this journey, we really see ourselves growing over time as people, as professionals, as human beings”.
The culmination of the course is the Healthcare Lab Poster Day session, which will be on January 29th 2021 from 12:30pm - 1:30pm, hosted on Zoom. Students will present their work and discuss the projects in zoom breakout rooms. The hosts are invited, and we invite all of you to attend as well. We will share the zoom link in our newsletter as the date nears.