Northeastern leads partnership to improve VA health care processes
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July 6, 2009

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.

For more information, please contact Jenny Catherine Eriksen at 617-373-2802 or at j.eriksen@neu.edu.

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