Michael Schifano, DO, MBA'17, is the kind of physician who’s always finding new ways to differentiate his practice. As CEO of Heartland Women’s Healthcare in southern Illinois, Dr. Schifano’s obstetrics-gynecology practice offers patients 30 locations for care in both Illinois and Missouri, as well as an extended-hour call center and 24-hour online appointments. But it’s not just accessibility that sets Heartland apart. A few years ago, he initiated a service that’s more convenient for expectant mothers – and a significant cost-saver.
“We had a need for patients to receive ultrasound photos of their unborn babies, however, ultrasound film is very expensive,” Schifano explained. “We tried printing photos to DVD, but it was cumbersome. We decided to begin saving the photos to a USB drive bracelet for the patient, which is a third of the cost of the film.”
But Dr. Schifano and his IT director, Chris Frost, didn’t stop there.
“We thought, ‘What else can we do for the patient?’ We began loading their password-protected electronic medical records in the USB bracelets for their convenience. The bracelets are branded on the outside to advertise Heartland and have become the patients’ welcome gift to the practice. They’re loaded with ultrasound photos of their baby, their locked prenatal records and even some frequently asked questions about what to expect during their pregnancies.”
Dr. Schifano was promoting the bracelets to other health care professionals at an American Congress of Obstetrics & Gynecologists (ACOG) meeting a couple of years ago, when his booth happened to be next to one for the Kelley School of Business Physician MBA Program. He’d contemplated earning his MBA in nearby Chicago or St. Louis, but no program was specific enough to the healthcare business skills he wanted to gain to grow his practice.
“What stood out to me about Kelley’s program was that it was specifically for physicians and not focused on traditional business language about making widgets,” he said. “I could learn about issues critical to healthcare. Plus, this program was uniquely cognizant of a physician's busy schedule, as opposed to other executive MBA programs.”
Dr. Schifano enrolled in the program and immediately put his new MBA knowledge to work at Heartland. He found the negotiations courses useful in creating economies of scale when purchasing supplies and malpractice insurance, as well as negotiating with insurance companies for payment. His biggest return on investment, though, was the improvements he made to inventory management of birth control devices, based on lessons from his operations course at Kelley.
“Our practice uses probably 1,500 intrauterine devices (IUDs) a year, which is far in excess of $1 million dollars in annual inventory. Each office documented its supply and stacked it in a corner, but we didn’t have a way to monitor supply. Tracking and protecting that inventory was a project I turned into a homework assignment during my MBA, and it was very successful,” he said. “We started a barcode system to scan all the IUDs coming in and out, so we know where they are at all times. We ended up carrying a much lower inventory because we could ship devices between clinics instead of ordering new ones.”
Over one to two years, he says “the savings from this new inventory management system covered the cost of my tuition, without question. It’s made a huge impact.”
After his graduation in August 2017, Dr. Schifano will now launch another technology offering to differentiate his practice: three-dimensional sculptures of ultrasound photos.
A concept Dr. Schifano and Frost created, 3-D printed ultrasound images turn a parent’s first glimpse at a baby in utero into an actual sculpture parents can touch and feel long before the baby arrives. It took a few months to determine how to clean up the image enough to translate to 3-D printing, and even more brainstorming to figure out how to make this new technology affordable.
“Currently, our patients can purchase a 3-D sculpture for under $200, which I think is a price point at which we can be valuable to many people,” he says. “This is really where my MBA marketing lessons came in hand – brainstorming and setting up a business model of how to share this new concept at an affordable price to anyone in the country, and get it to them in time for their baby shower. I worked with Kelley marketing professors Todd Saxton and Kim Saxton to craft a marketing strategy and develop my website at www.imagetolife.com.”
This new offering provides an especially important keepsake for blind expectant parents who are unable to see the ultrasound images of their unborn children, he said.
Once the 3-D ultrasound sculptures were up and running, Dr. Schifano offered one for free to a blind father – something he plans to do for visually impaired expectant parents going forward.
“The father-to-be was touching the face of his child, and he was just blown away. Here's a gentleman who'd been frustrated at many appointments because he could only listen to his wife experience seeing the ultrasound image. This was his first time to share that,” said Dr. Schifano. “Once we experienced that moment, we instituted a policy to do this for free for anyone who’s visually impaired, anywhere in the world. It's just too valuable an experience to keep that out of anyone’s hands because they can’t afford it.”
The lessons he gained in his MBA experience have changed Dr. Schifano and how he operates his practice of 160 employees. He says the lessons in teambuilding from his Kelley professors have been particularly useful in nurturing talent within his team.
“The faculty taught me that surrounding yourself with talented people is critical to success in business,” he said. “I recognized early the genius skill set of Mr. Frost and brought him up from a computer technician to chief information officer, where his creativity in the C-suite is noticed and cultivated. With great directors, team leaders and my newly minted Kelley MBA, I feel well-flanked at Heartland Women's Healthcare.”
A former U.S. Army officer, Dr. Schifano values organization and direct chains of command from one end of the practice to the other. His MBA experience was so impactful that he’s sponsoring his second-in-command at Heartland, Elisabeth Beyer Nolen, MD, a decorated Lieutenant Colonel, to attend Kelley’s Physician MBA Program this fall.
“Dr. Nolen is responsible for 40 practitioners across two states in 30 different locations, showing up to work and providing on-call care. I thought the value the program brought me would be extremely valuable to her – so much so that the practice itself is supporting her pursuing the degree,” he said.
“When I enrolled, I mistakenly thought I didn’t have the time to do an MBA. I tell physicians, there's never a better time. Two years from now won’t be a better time. You only have a finite amount time to use put these skill sets to use creating value. The moment to do that is today.”