North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has part­nered with the New Eng­land Vet­erans Affairs (VA) health care system, estab­lishing a new sys­tems engi­neering center to sig­nif­i­cantly improve quality and per­for­mance throughout VA hos­pi­tals. The part­ner­ship will design inno­v­a­tive indus­trial engi­neering solu­tions that improve VA processes, and that may ulti­mately extend to the U.S. pri­vate health care system.

Funded by $3.4 mil­lion annu­ally in grant and matching funding from the Depart­ment of Vet­erans Affairs, the New Eng­land Health­care Engi­neering Part­ner­ship (NEHCEP) is one of four new Vet­erans Engi­neering Research Cen­ters. Part­ners include the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology, Worcester Poly­technic Insti­tute and sev­eral VA cen­ters of excellence.

NEHCEP’s mis­sion is to develop and apply sys­tems and indus­trial engi­neering methods sim­ilar to those used suc­cess­fully in auto­mo­tive and other indus­tries to create effi­cient, safe, effec­tive, and reli­able health care processes.

We want to do for health care what the Toyota Pro­duc­tion System, Six Sigma, quality man­age­ment and indus­trial engi­neering did for the auto­mo­bile and other indus­tries,” says James Ben­neyan, exec­u­tive director of NEHCEP and pro­fessor of indus­trial and mechan­ical engi­neering at North­eastern. “By lever­aging the broad exper­tise of the VA and aca­d­emic part­ners, we’ll embed engi­neering improve­ment methods and prin­ci­ples into the fabric of the VA health care system and will ‘cross-​​educate’ engi­neers and health care pro­fes­sionals so that they can work effec­tively together to improve health care overall.”

Housed within the Boston VA Health­care System, NEHCEP will serve the New Eng­land net­work of eight med­ical cen­ters and 37 community-​​based out­pa­tient clinics, which together pro­vide care to approx­i­mately 1.2 mil­lion vet­erans. To help accom­plish its goals, NEHCEP is also devel­oping inno­v­a­tive inter­dis­ci­pli­nary aca­d­emic pro­grams for engi­neers and health care pro­fes­sionals, so that they can work effec­tively together to improve health care.

Through these inte­grated efforts, we expect nothing less than to build a per­va­sive cul­ture of improve­ment that will engage all of our staff, from top to bottom, in this fun­da­men­tally impor­tant work,” adds Dr. Michael Mayo-​​Smith, net­work director of the overall VA New Eng­land Health­care System.

In addi­tion to imple­menting proven indus­trial engi­neering methods, NEHCEP will use advanced math­e­mat­ical and com­puter mod­eling methods to ana­lyze, improve, and opti­mize var­ious types of processes, with the goal of sig­nif­i­cantly improving health care con­cerns including access, waits and delays, safety, optimal care, effi­ciency, equity and effec­tive­ness – the top national health care pri­or­i­ties recently iden­ti­fied by the U.S. Insti­tute of Med­i­cine and the National Academy of Engineering.

As the largest health care system in the U.S. and with deep lead­er­ship com­mit­ment, the VA is an ideal envi­ron­ment for devel­oping, demon­strating and dis­sem­i­nating health care engi­neering solu­tions nation­wide via this approach,” adds Dr. Ben­neyan. Nation­ally known for his pio­neering work in health care sys­tems engi­neering, Ben­neyan is a fellow at the Insti­tute for Health­care Improve­ment and former senior sys­tems engi­neer at Har­vard Com­mu­nity Health Plan.