Who is studying healthcare?

The motives for Mays faculty members to research healthcare vary, but it usually starts with a personal story.

James Abbey, an assistant professor of information and operations management, was inspired to study medical billing practices when he and his wife were immobilized—forced to focus on the bills—when their twins were born. Now he works daily in the worlds of business and healthcare, as do many others at Texas A&M University.

The Abbey twins: Madison and Jameson (now 2)

When Amanda Abbey found out she was pregnant with twins, excitement spread throughout their family, as well as their Mays Business School family. Though twin pregnancies are always higher risk than singletons, the last thought in the minds of the Abbeys was how their insurance would work throughout the months of check-ups and eventual day of what was almost assuredly to be a C-section birth. When the doctor predicted the twins’ arrival on Christmas day, calendars were marked, celebrations planned, and (less excitingly) insurance notified.

Yet, the twins did not adhere to the doctor’s schedule. During a routine weekly visit days before Thanksgiving, Amanda’s blood pressure had spiked into extremely dangerous levels. The doctor told the Abbeys to go home, get their go-bags, then go to the hospital immediately. “You are going to be parents in a couple of hours.”
Their excitement was clouded in fear, as such a dangerous blood pressure could create life-threatening conditions for both the mother and the babies. Yet, on the way home, Amanda knew she had to make a call – but not to her mother, who was on standby to fly down to Texas, or her sister, brother, or other family members. The call was to their insurance company.

Thus began a months-long battle that led to James Abbey’s current research topic of medical insurance reimbursement. He studies how providers bill for services and change their structures over time.

James Abbey has since spoken twice to all first-year and some of the more senior students in the medical school – something he has learned is unique among medical schools. “No one else teaches the economics and business of healthcare to their medical students in such a direct, vivid fashion,” he said. “I have given the talk elsewhere to smaller groups of physicians. It touches a nerve with every single physician (or future physician) I have met.”

Leonard Berry—an acclaimed researcher and author—believes Mays is committed to advancing the world’s prosperity by enhancing human health. He is a primary link between Mays and the healthcare shapers on campus and around the world. He is a University Distinguished Professor of Marketing and a Regents’ Professor who built his career on researching service marketing.

Concurrent with his faculty position at Mays, Berry is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement studying service improvement in cancer care for patients and their families. He also taught the first healthcare course at Mays, in 2016, through the Undergraduate Business Honors program.

“A lot of business schools aren’t doing a lot on this topic,” Berry said at a faculty and staff lunch and learn at Mays in December 2017. “We have the opportunity to be among the first business schools to really dominate the business side of this field.”

Much of Berry’s career has been spent in marketing, but he said the transition to healthcare was an easy and natural one – particularly after he spent a year at the Mayo Clinic as a visiting scientist in 2001-2002. He conducted an in-depth research study of healthcare service, including interviews and observations of 1,000 people. The findings were the basis for his book, “Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic” (2008). “I might be the first outsider to be allowed to study Mayo the way I did. I had full access. I got hooked on healthcare.” He shared the knowledge he gleaned there in a series of journal articles and a book, then he brought it back to Mays.

Alexandar Angelus, an assistant professor of information and operations management, is studying the seasonal flu vaccine. He was motivated by the suffering caused by last year’s seasonal flu epidemic, when tens of thousands of people got sick, hospitals were overcrowded, and our society’s resources were stretched thin to deal with the health crisis. For example, emergency rooms were setting up tents outside their building to deal with the overflow of patients.

“Further, this crisis was mostly caused by the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine composition used that year,” Angelus said. “So, I thought that there must be a better way to manage influenza vaccine selection and production processes, so that the vaccine can be more effective and more widely available. I came up with an idea of how one might go about doing that in a more optimal way than is currently being done, and my project is intended to explore that idea analytically in greater depth.”

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