Campus & Community

Systems Engineering Reaches The White House

Over the last few decades, the healthcare system has been a raging topic of discussion across the United States. With costs approaching a fifth of the economy and millions more gaining access to coverage through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, policy makers are becomingly increasingly cognizant of the fact that strategic measures must be taken to increase the quality, affordability and efficiency of healthcare delivery in America.

In May 2014, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group comprising of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who make policy recommendations to the President on a broad spectrum of issues relating to science, technology and innovation presented a report titled ‘Better Health Care and Lower Costs:  Accelerating Improvement through Systems Engineering.’

“The dialogue on applying systems engineering methodologies to healthcare began a decade ago in the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering. There have been many impressive successes in a few healthcare provider organizations that have adopted a systems approach.  However, systems thinking has not been broadly seen as a solution to transforming the healthcare delivery enterprise,” said Dr. William Rouse, Alexander Crombie Humphreys Professor and Director of the Center for Complex Systems and Enterprises (CCSE) at the School of Systems & Enterprises.

As a prominent systems engineering expert and a member of the PCAST Systems Engineering in Healthcare Working Group, Dr. Rouse was part of a prestigious 17-member team that collaborated to establish the systems engineering tools and approaches recommended in the PCAST report – tools that can enhance the value of the healthcare system and improve the health of people across the land.

“The process was very interesting. Out of the 17 members, only four were engineers, the rest being a mix of senior members from the healthcare industry and prominent PCAST members. Nevertheless, from the start there was unanimous agreement that systems engineering needs to be a primary contributor in the healthcare field,” Dr. Rouse said.

“We need a radical change in the way we deliver care in this country and it is encouraging to see the nation’s leadership recognizing systems engineering as an important concept that can play a major role in improving the efficiency, reliability, quality and safety of the healthcare enterprise.”

Paying providers for value rather than volume and rewarding them for better health outcomes rather than procedures, having easy access to health data, engaging communities in improving healthcare delivery and training clinicians in using systems engineering methods, such as operations management, process modeling, simulation and supply-chain management are some of the strategies outlined in the PCAST report.

As Dr. Rouse summed up, “With the PCAST report, the systems-healthcare discussion has reached a level of national significance. Beyond the report, what we need is committed leadership who understands and appreciates the impact that systems engineering concepts and tools can bring to redesigning and improving health care environments and practices.”