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K-State Today

April 8, 2011

Engineering better health care, systems focus of K-State's new health care operations resource center

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

Helping health care providers and systems operate more efficiently and improve the quality of patient care is what Kansas State University's newest center is all about.

The Health Care Operations Resource Center is the result of an initiative spearheaded by faculty from K-State's industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department. Earning university center status provides opportunities for better recognition and more successful cooperation with health care providers, according to two of the researchers behind the initiative.

"We've already developed a significant number of quality connections with major health clinics and health organizations across Kansas," said David Ben-Arieh, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. Ben-Arieh — along with Chih-Hang "John" Wu, associate professor industrial and manufacturing systems engineering — has been leading the efforts that are now part of the Health Care Operations Resource Center.

"To date, though, our efforts are all reflected back to the individuals involved and to mostly one academic department," Ben-Arieh said. "Center designation status gives clients and potential collaborators and sponsors an indication of university commitment to this effort and provides project stability and permanency for our efforts. With this status we hope to also engage faculty from across the university to expand the scope and reach of projects, creating advances in numerous areas of research and the opportunity for new funding sources."

Centers are designated by the provost's office and are part of efforts to pursue environmental, social and economic sustainability in every major area of the university. Centers help connect university faculty and staff who are involved in interdisciplinary, systemic work and research.

Ben-Arieh and Wu's focus on health care operations began in 2007. Since then the department has completed 14 projects with clinics and hospitals across the state. The assignments have ranged from facility planning and optimization of medical supply ordering for small rural hospitals to emergency room work flow improvements and information systems design for large urban medical centers. Clients have included Mercy Regional Health Center, Manhattan; Hays Medical Center; Neosho Regional Medical Center, Chanute; and the KU Medical Center, the Veterans Administration Medical Center and Children's Mercy Hospital, all in the Kansas City area.

One key area of research the initiative has been involved with is modeling the spread of sepsis through the human body using system dynamics and computer simulation. Sepsis is a potentially serious medical condition in which bacteria overwhelm the bloodstream. The U.S. has around 750,000 new sepsis cases each year with at least 210,000 fatalities.

The aim of the sepsis modeling, done in collaboration with the University of Kansas Medical Center, is to develop an assessment tool that medical staff can use when making care decisions, particularly for those at higher risk of developing septic shock. This would prove especially useful for small hospitals, which are generally not well equipped to deal with acute sepsis. The tool could provide the time necessary to transport the patient to a larger facility for care.

According to Wu, applying industrial engineering approaches to nontraditional projects, such as sepsis and other similar efforts, is a primary reason why the Health Care Operations Resource Center is needed.

"Relating our efforts to an engineering department actually creates skepticism when researchers, medical professionals and administrators are first introduced to our services," he said. "We believe the center designation will allow us to overcome this difficulty and open doors to new collaborations.

"Today, more than ever, there is a recognition among most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, that our health care industry needs to operate more efficiently to reduce costs, provide consistently high quality of care and maximize patient satisfaction," Wu said. "The purpose of K-State's Health Care Operations Resource Center is to help do just that."

With time and sustainable funding levels Ben-Arieh and Wu hope to seek Kansas Board of Regents center designation for the Health Care Operations Resource Center.