Recently in the United States, we have heard a lot about reforming the American healthcare system. But healthcare is about much more than figuring out who should pay how much for which services. The mission of a new focus area at the Grainger Institute for Engineering, an incubator for transdisciplinary research in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, is to redesign the way healthcare is delivered.
“Healthcare doesn’t just happen during the physical interaction between patient and physician, when both are in the same room at the same time,” says Pascale Carayon, Procter & Gamble Bascom Professor in Total Quality in industrial and systems engineering at UW-Madison. “Interactions also happen remotely through smart and connected healthcare technologies that engage the patients in co-managing their health conditions, in partnership with their medical care team.”
Developing and safely implementing these technologies is the goal of the institute’s smart and connected healthcare thrust that Carayon is now leading. She plans to involve engineering faculty members in transdisciplinary and transformative research on healthcare delivery, noting that the institute’s infrastructure will be critical for realizing this vision.
“I am very excited to collaborate with younger faculty members who bring great ideas and a fresh perspective to solving big problems in healthcare,” Carayon says. “With Grainger Institute for Engineering funds, we have been able to hire a number of junior researchers already and we are not done yet. I think many of them are genuinely interested in working in the healthcare domain because it’s something everybody can relate to and has personal experience with.”
And transdisciplinary contributions will be key to this effort. For example, civil and environmental engineers might use their transportation expertise to improve medical equipment delivery to rural areas; electrical and computer engineers could develop reliable health status sensors and powerful healthcare analytics; mechanical engineers may design technologies for monitoring the movement of patients at home; and industrial and systems engineers make workflow processes in medical care more efficient and develop safe and user-friendly healthcare technologies.
Institute director Dan Thoma values Carayon’s already proven leadership on forming an eventually self-sustaining center that has an agile response to societal needs, something he considers one of the institute’s primary objectives.
That “center” is the Wisconsin Institute for Healthcare Systems Engineering (WIHSE), which Carayon has spearheaded since fall 2015. The broader goal of WIHSE, Carayon says, is to facilitate collaborations between engineers and clinical researchers to develop healthcare systems that revolutionize the patient experience, improve population health, control healthcare costs, and enhance clinician satisfaction.
Carayon is also keen to leverage the Grainger Institute for Engineering infrastructure to apply for large-scale federal grants and to identify industry collaborators to form a research consortium of academic and private sector partners. One of her near-term goals is for this consortium to support a seed grant program that will allow junior investigators to generate preliminary data in novel research areas, a necessary ingredient in applying for larger external grants.
“I look forward to working with Todd Allen and William Murphy, the institute thrust leads for energy and sustainability and for biomanufacturing, respectively, to share and develop best practices in engaging with industry partners in smart and connected healthcare,” Carayon says. “By combining the strengths of academic and industry partners, I am confident that the new thrust will not only advance and implement our research to improve patient care, but also give us a voice in shaping our national healthcare policy.”
Author: Silke Schmidt