Innovation leads a team of TCOM students to Sloan SSM Health national case competition

Group Picture SloanA trio of students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine used tenacity and innovation to advance to the finals of the 3rd Annual Case Competition of Cornell University’s Sloan Program in Health Administration.

First-year students Gabriel Kupovics, Navya Peddireddy and Megana Sundar made it through the initial round of 40 graduate school teams from all across the nation into the semifinals, where they advanced from there to the finals. The students from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth were one of only two medical school teams that advanced to the finals, which featured eight teams from leading graduate school programs in health care.

The goals of this competition, led by the Healthcare Students Association at Cornell University, are to demonstrate knowledge and skills in strategy formation and to demonstrate strategic foresight skills by scanning an emerging market for trends and options on the horizon.

In this case, they were challenged to devise real-world applications for the Health Care Utility business model — a novel, non-profit structure in which otherwise competing entities, such as health systems, collaborate in a mission-oriented way to provide an essential good or service they all need — as do patients — at the lowest possible cost.

“Once we heard we were part of the 40 teams that made it into the initial part of the competition, we came up with a proposal that would address one aspect of health care we could make better,” Peddireddy said.

The TCOM students came up with a plan to make cataract surgery accessible for the estimated 20.5 million Americans aged 40 and older who have cataracts in one or both eyes. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. They noticed that adjusting the price of the artificial cataract lens used in the surgery would make the procedure significantly cheaper for the patient. This was done through finding FDA-approved manufacturers that made cataract lenses for cheaper and importing them to surgical centers in the states. Through their plan, they would improve access to the 60-minute cataract surgery that puts an end to paying unaffordable amounts of money for an essential procedure and improving the quality of care for the patient.

“Taking the HCU model, we came up with the idea to bring down fees for patients and help them out for getting a better lens for cheaper without having to go through insurance,” Peddireddy said.

The competition began with 40 teams submitting their presentations virtually to a panel of judges across the nation.

“The judges read through all of the material and selected 16 teams to go to the semifinals,” Sundar said. “We had to do a 10-minute presentation based on what we submitted virtually in the semifinals to see if we advanced to the Finals.”

The team was selected to advance to the finals in St. Louis, which was hosted by SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. The finals of the competition featured a 15-minute presentation by the team and 10 minutes for questions from the judges.

“We knew we were up against teams from Yale, UCLA and other prestigious business-related programs, such as MHA [Masters of Health Administration] or MPH [Masters of Public Health] programs,” Kupovics said. “Their curricula were more geared toward this competition, but we were very happy to be there and have a chance to talk with some of the big names in health care.”

The TCOM students showed with their presentation that using an HCU can minimize the cost of cataract surgery, which will have a remarkable impact on the millions of patients with this condition. They also demonstrated that by following a business model that prioritizes patient wellness over profits a company can contribute to making health care more patient-centered and equitable.

“We were all unaware of the various barriers in place that make changing healthcare, especially financial burdens for patients, so difficult. Going to the finals and hearing from all of the different people who work in such high-level positions was inspiring because you could see that there are people in power fighting against those barriers to actually help patients,” Sundar said. “Hearing the efforts of advocates who are interested in reducing the cost of health care made me think about how I am going to do that as a physician.”

“I understood more about the leadership aspect of healthcare and how important it is to advocate for patient’s rights. Not only is it important to be innovative, but by implementing business model changes, we can see a direct positive impact in patients’ quality of care,” Peddireddy said. “By being one of the only two medical school teams there, we learned a lot about the bridge between healthcare administration and physicians and what we could do to minimize that gap. It gave us a better insight into learning beyond medicine and understanding the realism of the complexity in accessibility to healthcare.”

The UCLA School of Public Health was the overall winner of the competition, with USC placing second and Yale third. The TCOM students came away from the two-month-long process with an empowered mindset on how they will transform health care for the next generation.

“It’s easy to point out all of the things wrong with health care, but having to actually think through ideas with the way the system is to make changes and to think outside of the box, that’s what we can do as future providers,” Sundar said. “What can we do that’s creative that will actually make an impact? Now we have more of an idea as future physicians and can have an impact on this.”

The team would like to note their gratitude to HSC for funding their trip to the Finals in St. Louis and to Dr. Janet Lieto and Lin Nelson for listening to their idea and prompting discussion prior to the finals presentation.

“This group is remarkable,” Nelson said. “They are values-driven and incredibly motivated to improve our healthcare system.  We are so impressed with their leadership skills, confidence and openness to look at the bigger picture to solve problems and as first-year students, they are well on their way to becoming the forward-thinking physician leaders TCOM is known for.”

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