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Taking a management approach to solving healthcare problems

A Rotman researcher examines and tackles the major challenges in healthcare with a business mindset.

Years ago, while catching up with a colleague during a late-night flight, Professor Anita McGahan was hit with a sudden realization.

“I was wondering aloud if I should have become a physician and my colleague, who happens to be a global health physician and researcher, was telling me that most of his problems were actually management problems,” recalls McGahan, a professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management.

The point struck a chord with McGahan, who realized that “we have a great deal of information, technology, protocols, ideas and new approaches about how to improve health and deliver healthcare — and yet we don’t deliver. That’s a management problem.”


“It’s a business problem: healthcare is getting too expensive and we’re facing an impending crisis.”

-Anita M. McGahan, Rotman Chair in Management, Strategic Management


McGahan, who is the Rotman Chair in Management, examines and tackles the major challenges in healthcare with a business mindset. Her research is focused on making the world a healthier place, by developing solutions based in management and strategy best practices.

For instance, in a 2017 paper, she and her colleagues considered the idea of ‘reverse innovation’ — a business principle previously used by companies like GE and Microsoft — in their global health research. The authors developed a framework for improving access to care in high-income countries, like Canada, by looking for solutions that have been successfully developed in lower-income countries.

“Some of the most important and exciting healthcare developments are happening in countries like India. These are countries that are dealing with poverty, but have tremendous engineering capabilities,” she explains.

“In high-income countries, having the latest medical equipment with all the bells and whistles is not always necessary, and it’s making care more expensive. It comes down to resource allocation. Sometimes, a $100 neo-natal incubator might be as effective as the $37,000 gold standard.”

She’s also taken on some of the ‘grand challenges’ in healthcare, by summarizing a key problem in global health and outlining recommendations in a 2016 Academy of Management paper.

“One of our most crucial problems is that don’t have enough new science on diseases of the poor. We need to develop strategies to get the best scientists working with the newest techniques and medicines for these diseases,” she explains.

In her paper, she urged for further international and cross-sector collaborations and encouraged the global community to support research on neglected diseases, including malaria, encephalitis and dengue fever, which account for 90 per cent of deaths in lower-income countries.


“We can find the answers by looking at what we teach at Rotman and other business schools: using approaches that incorporate Design Thinking and developing interventions with the user in mind. That’s how we’ll improve health and healthcare.”

-Anita M. McGahan, Rotman Chair in Management, Strategic Management


Next, McGahan is considering the role of technology. Because many diseases that affect the poor tend to be highly contagious, prevention is key and disseminating information quickly is crucial.

“There are significant opportunities to leverage machine learning, social media and cognitive computing in outbreak surveillance and to track disease hot spots.”

Ultimately, she says the approaches to solving many of these problems come back to business best practices — as indicated by her colleague on the plane many years ago.

“It’s a business problem: healthcare is getting too expensive and we’re facing an impending crisis,” says McGahan, who is currently working on a book about strategies for approaching healthcare.

“We can find the answers by looking at what we teach at Rotman and other business schools: using approaches that incorporate Design Thinking and developing interventions with the user in mind. That’s how we’ll improve health and healthcare."


Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Rotman Insights »

Meet the Researcher

Anita M McGahan

Anita McGahan

Rotman Chair in Management
Professor of Strategic Management

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