The Executive Team Consulting Project within the Brandeis Executive MBA for Physicians Program (EMBA) is a capstone activity for each student to launch, lead, and work with a team of their colleagues to complete a change initiative that impacts an aspect of their own work in health care.
Dr. Evan Lipsitz is an alumnus of the EMBA class of 2017. Currently, he is the Chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery and Medical Director of the Noninvasive Vascular Laboratories at the Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. During his EMBA, he focused his Executive Team Consulting Project on acquiring and implementing a new system at the vascular laboratory for image management reporting and data storage to replace an outdated system that was used across several of the organization’s inpatient hospital and outpatient sites. The medical center recently finished the implementation of the project, and he joins us to reflect on the experience.
How did you choose this specific project?
We recognized the need for an enhanced, integrated system more than 10 years ago. About 5 years ago, we went through one complete cycle of product evaluations and replaced the old legacy system with another that was essentially a beta version, and not up to date, didn’t meet our needs, and was not really sustainable. As this became apparent, I chose it as my project with the hope that some of the skills and information I had gotten through the EMBA would help me and the team to make a better business case for the project. It wasn’t that people didn’t recognize the need, it was just that there are so many projects in so many areas that require attention at a large medical center like ours. It became apparent early on in the EMBA that we would cover a variety of subjects each of which would be valuable for approaching this problem. We could then make a case based on business sense and medical necessity, from the point of view of all stakeholders.
How has the project evolved since graduation?
When I presented my progress on the project at the end of the EMBA program, it had been presented to my organization, but it had not been approved yet. The approval came after graduation. From there, we had to purchase the product, plan the implementation, and work out some of the kinks after the go live. There was still a lot of work to be done around implementation itself and how it was going to work with IT. Much of that work was up front but there were still a lot of things on the backend that we needed to work on. We finished the EMBA in May of 2017, and it was about a year and a half until the system was actually up and running. I consider it done only now that the health system is using it.
What was the process of forming your team like?
I think we knew who most of the players were, and we involved a lot of people. As with a lot of these projects, it involved IT heavily, as well the people who manage the labs that do the studies. It also involves physicians because we actually have to read the studies. Finally, it involves hospital administration. We needed a comprehensive and invested group of stakeholders to build a strong business case. With this project, the medical need was obvious. It was the business case that was most crucial and which required refinement.
What do you think made your project successful?
I think the most important thing was making the case from an accounting perspective. I used all the skills from the managerial accounting course. We are able to frame the conversation in new way. Another was using the relational coordination tools we got in the program to build strong teams. Also, working with the team and engaging and encouraging all stakeholders to get some outside the box thinking was helpful. A big stumbling block, at least early on, was that we were going to host the entire system on our servers as the organization was understandably worried about privacy, which would have been a huge expense. Another option was to host the system remotely. After much discussion, everybody came to realize that to make this work, and in anticipation of other upcoming projects, we would need to look to host remotely. It was also apparent that many other hospitals were moving that way as well for similar reasons. So luck and timing played a role as well. The project might not have happened three years ago. The institution deserves a lot of credit for their willingness to move in this direction. As a result, similar projects might have an even easier time looking forward three years from now.
How did Brandeis’s EMBA for Physicians program help you along the way?
The program was invaluable. I don’t think I could have done it without it. It allowed me to focus on all the important areas other than just medical need. The medical needs were important, and while they seemed obvious, they were not enough. I tried to choose a project that would let me use skills from almost every single class that we had. In some ways, this is not a particularly ingenious project, but I think that the skills and tools needed allowed for really good practical application of all the things that we learned. Practicing these skills will help me do similar projects if needed in the future.
What advice would you give to a physician who is considering pursuing an EMBA?
This program was great. In this day and age, it gives you a skill set and a perspective that you don’t otherwise get. I think to do it at a time when you have work experience under your belt is very meaningful. No matter what you decide to do with it or how you decide to apply it, it’s knowledge that makes you a better physician in the system where we are subject to so many systematic constraints. Understanding those are really important. Also it’s important in moving forward for physicians to be involved in policy and business because they have boots on the ground. Also, I would add that the program is really a great journey. It’s a lot of fun. It is a lot of work. It’s a big commitment. But I think well worth it.