By Liz Warren-Pederson
MBA students enrolled in Rob Owen’s operations management class this spring worked on special projects for UA Health Plans (UAHP) involving process improvement, costs savings measures, increased member satisfaction, and access to care.
“Normally I break the class into teams and ask them to go find businesses to work with,” Owen said. “In this case UAHP partnered with me prior to class start as the ‘client’ for my entire class.”
UAHP enrolls more than 175,000 members in its health network; since 2006, it has experienced a seven-fold expansion in membership.
The 41 students in the class divided into seven teams and applied the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) problem solving, lean principles, and value stream mapping to examine key processes with UAHP. They met with representatives of their respective areas within Health Plans, also gaining insight into the complexity of the organization.
The projects included discretionary member mailing costs and content, print vendor management, accuracy of provider data to communicate relevant member health information, monthly flowchart analysis and oversight, premium billing processes for the newly created Federal Marketplace members, care transition processes between departments and health plans, and code based prior authorization analysis.
“Our team examined a frequently-used process at UA Health Plans through interviews and conversation with employees across multiple functions,” said Marci Hill (Eller MBA ’15). “We were able to identify root causes of challenges in the process and make recommendations for improvement.”
Soumyonil Bose (Eller MBA ’15) led the project focused on prior authorization. “From our interviews with the management team and the department employees, we determined that the prior authorization ‘screening process’ was a bottleneck in the system,” he said. “The value stream mapping (VSM) tool Professor Owen covered in class was extremely useful not only to map out the workflow, but also to identify areas for process improvement and cost savings.”
Hill, Bose, and their classmates presented findings to the UAHP leadership team on May 6. “In a short period of time, each team was able to identify critical opportunities for effective process improvements with both short- and long-term returns on investment,” said Dr. Thomas Ball, Chief Medical Officer for UAHP. “The Health Plans leaders’ expectations were exceeded and implementation teams will act upon these recommendations. The intellect, engagement, teamwork, and training of these well-educated MBA students were evident throughout the period of consultation.”
“I believe that MBA coursework should focus primarily on practical application and real world projects,” Bose said. “I am grateful to Professor Owen and UA Health Plans for giving us this opportunity to directly apply the concepts learned in class to a real-world business scenario.”
“Having a real-world client is considerably different than a case study because the real world is never so neatly packaged as on the pages of a case,” Hill said. “There are more questions to ask and more perspectives shared in a real-world situation. The benefits are the opportunities to network and the experience gained in handling ambiguity.”
Top photo of UA’s Old Main courtesy University Relations.