Defining Healthcare x Business

Modern healthcare, its challenges, and Phoenix’s niche

Graphic design by Cat Tang.

Berkeley has a lot of professional clubs that do consulting. Each one has their own niche. Some have an industry focus. Some work with certain types of companies — NPOs, startups, or tech companies. Yet others define their consulting by the kind of work they do: software engineering, data science, design.

In Phoenix, we define ourselves by our work with the health sector, and our catchphrase is the “intersection of healthcare and business.” While this is technically an industry focus, healthcare is so broad in its reach and activities that our projects, clients, and membership demographics all vary widely. In some sense, we’re closer to domain-focused organizations like ML@B or Blockchain@Berkeley than traditional consulting clubs.

Historically, this breadth of focus has been really confusing for our applicant messaging. Do we recruit pre-meds, business majors, or engineering majors? Does our project work involve business problems? What is at the intersection of healthcare and business anyway? The truth is until this article, it was hazily defined for us too.

After some thinking, we now have a better description for what lies at the intersection of healthcare and business: any aspect of healthcare that requires decision making with broader structural or economic context. This article takes you through our read of the health sector, its business problems, and how we got to this description. It is our hope that it will show you the health sector’s complexity, inspire you to investigate some of its issues, and define our niche as a health-sector consulting club.

Understanding Healthcare

A good way to start understanding healthcare is by defining it around a hospital. Here’s a basic patient experience:

  1. Diagnosis: you get sick, so you see a doctor. The doctor (or her associates) perform some tests, possibly using an expensive machine.
  2. Treatment: when the test results come back, you go in for some minor surgery, followed by a few drug prescriptions.
  3. Payment: your insurer charges you afterward for part of the bill.

Even the smoothest hospital experience has a village behind it. The hospital employs administrators, suppliers, and doctors. Labs develop the tests, pharma companies make the drugs, and medical device companies manufacture the machines. The government subsidizes all three, then turns around and negotiates your bill with insurers. This hospital experience covers what we traditionally define as healthcare: healthcare equipment and services, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and related life sciences.

Yet no real health system experience is quite so smooth. Doctors aren’t always available. Tests aren’t rarely conclusive. Treatment doesn’t necessarily work. Drugs aren’t fairly priced. Payment is super complicated. Solving all of these problems requires more resources and more people. So we must add to the healthcare industry more government agencies, community networks, law firms, and nonprofit organizations.

Such a view of healthcare would be sufficient to encapsulate the industry in 2000. But in the last 20 years, healthcare has become trendy. We’ve seen motifs like precision medicine, machine learning diagnostics, and bioengineering enter the mainstream. Increasing access to fitness apps and wearables has brought an increasing shift of care delivery toward digital health solutions. And rising inequality has led to a renewed focus on access and resource allocation. The healthcare industry now includes thousands of technology players — and accompanying regulators and investors.

The healthcare industry of today, then, is a $2.6 trillion dollar behemoth that includes all of the players we covered: care providers, pharmaceutical companies, life sciences innovators, government agencies, community networks, legal entities, NPOs, and tech companies. It’s flushed with new entrants and opportunities to make an impact on people’s livelihoods. It is with this mindset that we turn to looking at business problems in healthcare.

Business in Healthcare

The same business problems exist in healthcare as everywhere else. Each firm and institution from the categories above must operate smoothly, keep an eye on finances, and design, build, market, and sell their products.

Unique to healthcare, however, are several classes of issues independent of the actual value of the goods and services offered. Our challenge in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, is primarily due to structural and cultural issues instead of therapeutic limitations. These kinds of issues can span legal, commercial, and consumer activity and almost every business problem in healthcare involves them in some way. A brief list:

Siloization and fragmentation refers to the healthcare industry’s decentralization and difficulty in collaboration or sharing data.

Resource allocation refers to America’s vastly unequal standards of care and health across class and racial divides.

Misaligned incentives and opaque pricing are famous in healthcare. Customers rarely know what they are paying for, and tend to pay based on how many procedures were done as opposed to the outcomes of those procedures

Conservative markets: technology adoption in healthcare systems is extremely slow, in part because of…

Unwieldy regulatory barriers put in place by government agencies, which do well at protecting patient privacy but can unnecessarily slow down research and innovation.

Defining our Niche

We wrote earlier that Phoenix defines Healthcare X Business as any aspect of healthcare that requires decision making with broader structural or economic context. The truth is, this captures nearly all of healthcare as we know it, perhaps excluding pure therapeutic or research endeavors. So do we recruit pre-meds, business majors, or engineering majors? We’d love to have all of them. Does our project work involve business problems? Yes, but we also analyze drug pipelines, map patient journeys, and navigate regulatory legalese. What is at the intersection of healthcare and business anyway? The truth is, nearly all of healthcare.

Embodying this means we partner with entities across the spectrum of modern healthcare to solve healthcare problems. We improve their businesses, products, or services with a mind to the structural issues listed above. Internally, it means speeding the growth of tech in healthcare by building an accelerator and increasing access to healthcare resources through public events and workshops.

Jorge Conde of a16z writes that “healthcare is leaving the building.” At Phoenix Consulting, you will find that healthcare is leaving the lecture hall. Our niche—and this has become our new mission statement—is to train the healthcare leaders of tomorrow by solving the healthcare problems of today.

Christopher Zou, January 2021

Getting Involved

Phoenix Consulting Group is a UC Berkeley student organization, consulting firm, and tight-knit community. We solve health-sector problems for all sorts of companies: past clients include Amgen, the American Red Cross, Clover Health, and more. While doing so, we train our members, support the Berkeley health ecosystem, and have a really good time.

Like what you hear? If you’re a student, Phoenix Consulting Group is currently recruiting new members for the Spring 2021 semester. Head on over to our LinkTree to find all the resources you need.

If you’re a firm or institution interested in partnering with us, check out our website for more information, work samples and contact forms.

Contributors

Christopher Zou is a junior at UC Berkeley studying Computer Science and Molecular and Cell Biology, with a concentration in Biochemistry. He serves as Projects Vice President in Phoenix. You can find more of his writing and work here.

Catherine Tang is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Public Health and Business Administration. She serves as a Project Manager for our project with Mental Health America.

30+ undergraduates driving impact across the health sector phoenix.berkeley.edu