Veterans Health Care to Get an Injection of IE

By Candi S. Cross
Aug. 5, 2009

Quality and performance will be the focal point of an alliance designed to improve the care of approximately 1.2 million U.S. veterans. According to James Benneyan, executive director of the New England Healthcare Engineering Partnership (NEHCEP), a fresh bill of best practices may ultimately extend to the U.S. private health care system.

Northeastern University has partnered with the New England Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, establishing a systems engineering center to address 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. Funded by $3.4 million annually in grant and matching funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs, NEHCEP is one of four Veterans Engineering Research Centers. Partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and several VA centers of excellence.

"The main objective in the long term is to create capacity within the VA, and that will spill over into the national health care system," said Benneyan, who is also a professor of industrial and mechanical engineering at Northeastern. "The VA was chosen very carefully, at least for me to get involved in, because it is the largest health care system and one of our best health care systems that will play a role in the discussion on whatever happens with national health care. The idea is to cross-educate health care practitioners and industrial engineers about each other’s domain, and that is not going on enough anywhere. There are pockets of this integration, but these pockets need to be much broader and deeper."

Located within the Boston VA Healthcare System, NEHCEP will serve the New England network of eight medical centers and 37 community-based outpatient clinics. In conjunction with full-time leadership positions at the Centers, the alliance is also developing innovative interdisciplinary academic programs for engineers and health care professionals in order to present solutions that cojoin their skills and principles. Advanced mathematical and computer modeling methods to analyze, improve and optimize various types of processes will be used frequently in the programs.    

"My dream is massive transformation and the VA is a great place to start," Benneyan said. "My hope is a national demonstration project with the help of various organizations that go beyond IIE. The industrial engineering profession is not recognized at the highest level that it can be for contributions in health care."