Hospital Management: Powered by the pandemic?

Hospital Management: Powered by the pandemic? Picture used for representational purpose only (Source: Shutterstock)
Atul Krishna | Nov 27, 2020 - 10:19 a.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: If the global coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to any sector, it is healthcare.

Originating at a wholesale seafood market in China’s Wuhan, the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, spread rapidly and relentlessly through the world and nearly one year on, there is still no end in sight.

It has brought public and private healthcare, their methods of functioning and failures, unprecedented attention and scrutiny. It is also forcing changes at business schools that offer healthcare management courses.

Some of them have seen an uptick in demand for their courses; some have added new programmes or new modules to existing ones. While there is both interest and attention, B-Schools are only very cautiously optimistic about the prospects of graduates of these programmes.

Increase in applications

“This year, we have an increase in admissions for our Management in Hospital Administration (MHA),” said K Manivannan, assistant professor at Amity Institute of Hospital Administration, Noida. “We are still getting applications in that area. We are also expecting the same in Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Healthcare Management.”

Those teaching management at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, agreed saying there is “definitely an uptick” in applications but associate professor of management and finance, Krishnamurthy Bindumadhavan, added that they “can’t say clearly” what has caused it. “I suppose there is an increase in interest because clearly the better management of the pandemic is very critical. So given that this is feeding into the healthcare community in general, courses like ours which focus on healthcare management will gain some prominence,” he said.

Before COVID-19

Business schools were starting to take an interest in healthcare even before the pandemic began and that was prompted by the expansion of the private healthcare sector.

“In a country like India, with a large population and increasing age, it was already important. The private health sector is also gaining importance which is what we thought when we launched this programme in 2017,” said Bindumadhavan, who is the department head of MBA in hospitals and health systems management, BITS pilani.

The pandemic has had massive impact on the sector and academics predict that some of those effects will lead to still more changes once the pandemic is over. Along with that, management teaching will have to change too.

“There will be more functional analysis on sustainability and more analysis on how data affects business strategies. There will be focus on disinvestment and also on how the pandemic has temporarily resuscitated some of the non-working hospitals,” said Nitin Sippy, associate professor at D Y Patil University School of Management,
Navi Mumbai.

New courses

Although still unsure about the future COVID-19 will leave them, management departments are tentatively making changes to their curriculum to incorporate more elements from the healthcare and allied sectors.

“We are preparing an epidemic disaster management syllabus which will be included from the next semester. There will be two papers, one on clinical areas and the other on supportive services,” said Manivannan. “Till now we didn’t have a separate course for health economics, now we are going to include health economics and appoint separate professors for the same in BBA and MHA.”

Some believe that an experiential learning process will naturally accommodate changes brought in by the pandemic. “We have an immersion study in the programme where students spend 15 days at a hospital. COVID-19 is a very challenging situation…so as part of experiential learning, this contextual learning also happens,” said
Bindumadhavan.

Will be slow

While healthcare or hospital management programmes are gearing up for some changes, there is no consensus on how long these changes will last. Some believe that COVID-19 may not lead to an expansion of the manager’s role in healthcare at all, but a contraction instead.

“It is nice to talk about [the effects of COVID-19] in business meetings or conferences but fundamentally on the ground there will be no change until and unless the famous Indian public healthcare system comes into picture. The public health policy has to change for there to be an effect on public health management,” said Sippy.

Academics also believe that the spike in enthusiasm for the courses may not necessarily translate into immediate benefit for aspiring management students in the field. In fact, recruitment in some of the link fields has even declined sharply, said Manivannan.

“Before COVID-19, quality management was the main focus in India,” explained Manivannan. “They were spending crores in quality management, hiring people. But now everything is maintained for COVID-19, the other quality systems such as data management has come to zero. Placements and recruitments in these areas have come to zero.”

“There have been instances in south India where administrative staff, managers, camp workers, etc., infected by COVID-19, after treatment have been asked to stay at home and they are not being allowed back,” he added.

With hospitals drawing up plans for sustaining themselves, management staff could also end up being considered expendable, leading to slimmer teams across organisations. “An epidemic can be managed without managers. For the long run, they will plan a budget with fewer managers. So, hospitals are planning for more clinical persons rather than supporting staff,” said
Manivannan.

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