University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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In the health systems program, MSIE students learn to apply ISyE tools and approaches to specific health care problems. PhD students are trained to develop innovative transportable solutions to critical health care problems while contributing to advancements in decision science, decision support systems and quality research fields.



Faculty, Health Systems specialization


Oguzhan Alagoz

— Convenor


Core faculty


Patricia Flatley Brennan


Emeriti faculty


David Gustafson

David Zimmerman


Contributing faculty


Pascale Carayon

Dharmaraj Veeramani

Douglas Wiegmann


Affiliate faculty


Elizabeth Burnside

Mary Carnes

Christopher Crnich

Caprice Greenberg

Eneida Mendonca

Dhavan Shah

Maureen Smith

Bruce Thomadsen

David Vanness



Program requirements


Advising information [PDF]


Progress challenges health care managers


Each step toward medical progress creates demands for information management, decision making and quality management. Recent changes in financing health services (HMOs, PPOs, integrated service networks, proprietary involvement) have created enormous incentives to improve the productivity of the health system while maintaining or improving quality. Industrial and systems engineers possess tools to analyze these demands and create systems to help solve these problems. Some significant health care issues addressed by UW-Madison health systems engineers include:

  • Creating models and scales to appraise important health variables including quality of life and care satisfaction.
  • Advancing the principles of continuous quality improvement through careful methodological studies and innovative uses of decision support systems to facilitate implementation of these principles.
  • Developing computer systems to educate people on ways to avoid accidents and illness instead of only treating injuries and diseases after they occur.
  • Providing information to support health care delivery; finding ways to help patients, their family members and clinicians improve delivery of health services through computerized decision support systems. 
  • Addressing patient safety, evaluating how practice patterns can be monitored to identify opportunities for improving quality of care; finding ways for hospitals to expedite patient discharge.
  • Evaluating health care management and organization; coordinating the many semi-independent hierarchies across health care organizations to improve health care quality.
  • Clinical decision making and decision support; developing systems to improve the development and acceptance of clinical guidelines.

Since health systems engineering includes many different disciplines, the program welcomes students with other professional interests. The following examples illustrate how health systems engineers analyze and solve problems.


Models facilitate understanding

In many areas of engineering, physical models aid problem identification and solution. In the health system, models are more likely to be mathematical constructs or computer simulations. Manipulating mathematical models allows measurement of validity and effectiveness at relatively low cost and without risk to patients. For example, building a fully-equipped ambulatory surgery center would be too costly a way to determine if one were needed. Instead, health systems engineers create financial, numerical, statistical & simulation models to help health workers understand and eventually solve problems.


A typical model involves a computer simulation for senior health managers who enter their decisions on computers. The results can be computed immediately and reported. Mathematical models can also be used to predict the effectiveness of a new health policy or estimate the efficacy of different treatments for cancer pain.


Human judgments are vital

An overriding concern in health care is the appropriate use of human judgments. Health systems engineers recognize critical health care decisions will be made using the best judgments available. Clinicians must diagnose and treat illness and administrators must factor political considerations into their decisions. Uncertainty is not an exception, but an omnipresent concern. Health systems engineers are trained in decision sciences to capture, quantify and incorporate values, expectations and uncertainty into their analyses. In doing so, the judgments of experts can be more effectively and widely used.


Open lines of communication are essential

Understanding how people solve problems is a basic requirement for health systems engineers, who must apply scientific methods in a value-laden setting. In addition to generalizing users' needs from sample interviews and observations, health systems engineers must examine users' statements of need, and stimulate users to consider other ways of solving problems and using information. This interactive design process makes extensive use of computers, but differs significantly from ordinary computer systems analysis.


Employment prospects


Currently, there is a shortage of health systems engineers at PhD and MS levels. The department receives many unsolicited requests from potential employers, and opportunities are likely to increase.


Potential employers for PhD-prepared health systems engineers include academic institutions (health administration programs, public health schools and ISyE departments) and health care delivery organizations, consulting firms, and software design companies. Potential employers for MS-prepared health systems engineers include hospitals, nursing homes and similar institutions, doctors' offices and clinics, governmental and voluntary agencies, various health-planning agencies, universities and medical centers, research and planning organizations, manufacturers of hospital equipment, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, management consultants, and architectural and construction firms.


MSIE, Health Systems specialization

The health systems specialization seeks to train students to look at broad issues in health care, including long-term care, prevention, quality improvement, health care financing, and system evaluation. Effective model building requires strong systems analysis skills. While skill in manipulating statistical and mathematical models is essential to an industrial engineer's success, the health systems engineer must also be able to initiate resolutions to strategic problems using knowledge of how organizational decisions are made.


PhD, Health Systems specialization


To provide an idea of the scope of health systems engineering, some topics suitable for PhD dissertations are listed below:


  • Design and evaluation of computer systems to help case managers develop community-based plans of care, allowing an elderly person to remain at home and not enter a nursing home.
  • Study of ways to measure patients' needs for nursing services and design a patient-dependency measurement system to support allocation of nursing resources.
  • Evaluate the impact of a computerized health promotion program on consumer self management.
  • Development and evaluation of a computer system to support diagnosis of an emergency patient's condition.
  • Development of a model to predict and explain the dissemination of new medical technology.
  • Development and evaluation of a computer-based group decision support system for health policy formation and analysis.
  • Development and evaluation of a model-building process for both predicting and explaining the discontinuance of birth control among teenagers.


Laboratory facilities and research centers

This program provides graduate students with access to all industrial and systems engineering laboratories as well as the opportunity to learn specialized skills in several other sophisticated, advanced facilities:


Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis (CHSRA)

Develops and evaluates performance measures and decision support systems with health care applications, including long-term care quality assurance, health care cost containment and many other issues. Develops health information systems and databases for use in policy analysis and epidemiologic studies. Develops and evaluates decision support and information systems for health education and promotion programs, including the


Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS)


The Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis (CHSRA) conducts research, expanding and applying techniques such as decision theory, measurement, and evaluation, to improve health systems. Employing state-of-the-art technology, CHSRA collects, integrates, analyzes and interprets health information.

CHSRA was formed in 1973 as a collaborative effort between the departments of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Preventive Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Over the years, CHSRA's interdisciplinary staff has applied these techniques to address a variety of issues in long term care, injury prevention, maternal and child health, mental health, dental health and health crises.  


Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement (CQPI)

It is widely recognized that quality is fundamental to achieving long-term success. A renewed focus on customers and processes sets the stage for continuous improvement for industry, government, educational institutions, healthcare, and businesses. All have benefited from higher quality and productivity as well as reduced time and cost to develop, produce, deliver products and services, and improve safety. Data-based total quality methods are the catalyst to help people achieve these benefits.


To rise to the challenge of the international quality revolution, the (CQPI) was founded in October of 1985 by Professor George E.P. Box and the late Professor William G. Hunter. Since its inception, CQPI has been at the forefront in the development of new techniques for improving the quality of products and processes. Today, the Center is also at the forefront of methods aimed at improving the quality of work processes, working life and healthcare.


The mission of the Center is to create, integrate, and transfer knowledge to improve the quality and performance of industrial, service, governmental, healthcare, educational, social, and other organizations.


The vision of the Center is to excel in the creation, development, and integration of knowledge through research on theories, concepts, and methodologies of quality and productivity measurement, management and improvement, innovation and organizational change.


Areas of expertise in quality engineering are, quality management, quality improvement in healthcare, safety applications and research, and quality of working life, human factors and ergonomics.


Major research support has come from the National Science Foundation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the UW Graduate School, the State of Wisconsin, and private industry.



Quality Safety Innovation Laboratory (QSI)

The QSI Lab provides UW-Madison students experience applying industrial engineering methods and tools to health care at UW Hospital and Clinics. The Lab also provides improvements to the UW Hospital through various quality and process improvement projects.

Previously known as the Operational Integration lab, QSI is comprised of undergraduate and graduate level students from the UW-Madison College of Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering Program.