‘Social science needs to be out there, not locked away in the university’

7 Feb 2018

Prof Susi Geiger of the UCD College of Business. Image: UCD

This week on Science Uncovered, Prof Susi Geiger of UCD describes how she aims to help activists overturn market failures in healthcare.

Many people have long been despondent when it comes to the obvious market inequalities in the healthcare industry, seeing it as a problem with no possible fix. However, the turnaround in the area of HIV/AIDS treatment has shown a glimmer of hope.

Since the turn of the millennium, affected patients have demanded to be taken into account, not just in medical research and development, but also in the actual distribution and pricing of antiretroviral drugs.

In the same vein, Prof Susi Geiger of the University College Dublin (UCD) College of Business works as a professor of marketing and market studies.

Having graduated with two master’s degrees from the University of Mannheim, Germany, and the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, respectively, Geiger moved to Ireland in 1997 as a marketing executive in a computer company.

After being awarded a Desmond Guinness Scholarship to conduct research at Dublin City University, where she finished her PhD in 2002, she soon started working as a marketing lecturer in UCD and has been based there ever since.

During her time at the university, she has held several different positions, including vice-principal of research, innovation and impact for the UCD College of Business between 2011 and 2015, and as academic director of the diploma in sales management from 2011 to 2014.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

Quite simply, I love to read and write. During my childhood, one of my favourite places to be was the local library, with all this knowledge yet to be gained.

I had some great teachers and professors along the way who fostered my sense of curiosity and encouraged me. For me, being a researcher is the best job in the world. I get up every day to learn about things that fascinate me.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

My core interest lies in understanding how markets are organised and how they might be improved.

I am just embarking on a major new research project called Misfires, which I’m truly excited about. The project is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 European Research Council through a Consolidator award of €2m over five years. As part of the project, I will build up a team of five researchers.

The project aims to tackle what I think is a huge problem: market failures in healthcare, so, for instance, issues around access to medicines, the pricing of medication or how our health data is handled.

We will also look at emergent issues, such as the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

The project considers these issues from the perspective of those who are affected by these problems. Typically, when you look at markets, most innovative efforts come from two places: industry, through product or service innovations, or government, through regulation.

We will research how all the other market actors – activists, patient groups, other non-governmental organisations – can make their voices heard and can get involved in the market’s organisation. In my project, I call this a ‘collaborative turn’ in organising markets.

Our ambition is to work as closely with patient organisations and activists as we can. For me, social science needs to be out there in the world and not locked away in the university.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

There are so many unresolved issues in healthcare, both at home and globally. While I know that I can’t tackle them all or perhaps even solve any of them for good, I hope that my research may contribute at least a little to a world, where good healthcare is attainable for everyone.

A focus on health and wellbeing is part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals agenda, and any contribution we as scientists here in UCD and in Ireland can make to contributing to the attainment of these goals is of vital importance.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

While I am not aiming for any direct commercial applications, I am convinced that a better appreciation of patient concerns will help the pharmaceutical industry improve its own innovation efforts.

Pharmaceutical companies have opened up a lot to patient voices in recent years, which is great, and we want to help them to further advance on this path.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

The issues I am interested in are all hugely complex; there are never any easy solutions.

This makes life as a researcher quite frustrating as we realise the inherent limitations in what we do, but it’s also a big motivation to continue working on these issues.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

Sometimes, my affiliation with a business school can be of advantage – I am taken more seriously by industry, perhaps – but, especially when working with non-industry organisations, it can also be a bit of a problem.

These organisations might believe that business school scholars only ever do pro-industry research. But, in the UCD College of Business especially, a lot of our research is focused on solving societal issues and bridging between business and societal interests.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

We’re living in the age of information and data, but the transition has been too quick for society and law to really catch up. We need to think more carefully about the good and the harm that can be done through data, and how to ensure that no one actor has too much power over the world’s information. This is as important in healthcare as it is in other areas of life.

The EU’s move to adopt a new, 21st-century data protection regulation is a hugely important one. Researchers now need to trace the transition and identify any potential current and future gaps, and monitor the flows of data very carefully.