Improving the nation’s health­care system requires sig­nif­i­cant col­lab­o­ra­tion across dis­ci­plines, insti­tu­tions, and sec­tors, according to James Ben­neyan, a mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering pro­fessor at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. One of the few groups that do this kind of groundbreaking—and sig­nif­i­cantly challenging—work is the Center for Health Orga­ni­za­tion Trans­for­ma­tion, an industry-​​university coop­er­a­tive research center funded by the National Sci­ence Foundation.

Ben­neyan, the center’s co-​​director and co-​​principal inves­ti­gator, applies indus­trial engi­neering approaches to the real-​​time needs of industry part­ners, which include the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital. Last month, grad­uate stu­dents from Benneyan’s Health­care Sys­tems Engi­neering Insti­tute pre­sented the results of a score of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary projects at a meeting for mem­bers of the center, which com­prises North­eastern as well as Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity, Georgia Insti­tute of Tech­nology, and Penn State University.

At the meeting, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun said this type of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion is essen­tial to addressing global chal­lenges. “Every project should do what you are doing: namely, partner with others to change the world.”

In one project, Benneyan’s team col­lab­o­rated with Texas A&M researchers to under­stand and accel­erate how new inno­va­tions and best prac­tices spread across the U.S. health­care system.

As part of that project, a team led by North­eastern grad­uate stu­dents Corey Balint and Nicholas Andri­anas used new social net­work algo­rithms devel­oped by the HSyE to map the inter­con­nect­ed­ness and topology of health­care improve­ment com­mu­ni­ties in order to under­stand and visu­alize their struc­ture. In par­allel, post-​​doctoral researcher Dayna Mar­tinez and HSyE fellow Cory Stasko, a health policy grad­uate stu­dent at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology, used that infor­ma­tion to build com­pu­ta­tional models that sim­u­late and opti­mize the speed of the spread of improve­ments and sci­en­tific dis­cov­eries across the U.S. health­care system.

Researchers at the Center for Health Orga­ni­za­tion Trans­for­ma­tion are cur­rently con­ducting more than 40 projects, all of which are designed to address what mem­bers of the center’s advi­sory board describe as the “wicked prob­lems facing health­care today.” The two-​​day meeting allowed research teams to present interim results to all mem­bers, receive feed­back, and brain­storm new ideas.

The meeting also included a ple­nary lec­ture by Tejal Gandhi, pres­i­dent of the National Patient Safety Foun­da­tion. She noted that the field of patient safety has come a long way since the 1990s, when med­ical error was the nation’s eighth leading cause of death, but cau­tioned against com­pla­cency. “Patient safety is more impor­tant than ever,” Gandhi explained. “It is fun­da­mental to all other improvements.”

Later in her talk, she out­lined five approaches for fur­ther improving patient safety over the next decade. Some of those areas, such as opti­mizing the use infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and under­standing the impact of care across the con­tinuum of health facil­i­ties, the HSyE Insti­tute and NPSF Foun­da­tion hope to tackle together.