"Ultimately, we think the benefits of the partnership will be more efficient, costeffective care to the citizens of Indiana," Morr said. "The bottom line is, how can we do what we do better?"
Small and medium-size hospitals, which typically do not have people on staff dedicated to study the types of issues the Regenstrief center will tackle, could benefit most from the affiliation, Morr said.
Ed Abel, director in charge of health care services for the locally based Blue &
A new initiative at Purdue University is aiming to improve the way health care is delivered and ultimately could contribute to curtailing the rising cost of services.
The locally based Regenstrief Foundation Inc. awarded a $3 million grant early this year to launch the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering on Purdue's West Lafayette campus. In May, the Indiana Hospital & Health Association partnered with the center to provide access to its 166 member hospitals.
"We're an academic institution; they are natural laboratories," said Leroy Schwarz, the center's interim associate director. "We need a real-world partner to work with if we're to make improvements in the delivery of the health care system."
Schwarz, a management professor, and Joe Pekny, a chemical engineering professor who is serving as interim director of the center, are overseeing operations until permanent leaders are hired.
The goal is to apply the principles of engineering, management and science to the delivery of health care. The center and the locally based IHHA are targeting four areas they think can affect the manner in which hospitals in the state deliver their services. They include:
creating a health care technical assistance program, or TAP, modeled after a similar state-supported Purdue program that focuses on improving efficiency in the manufacturing sector.
pursuing outside funding to develop a small number of seed projects to solve hospital problems.
developing a health care engineering curriculum and training materials.
developing a Web site in which hospitals can collaborate and share knowledge.
Purdue's existing TAP has served Hoosier manufacturers 20 years, and now also is assisting life sciences and information technology companies. In the health care realm, faculty and students would spend 40 hours at a hospital with management working on a particular problem, Schwarz said.
Areas where they would consult might include supply and data management, hospital pharmacy processes, operation and administrative procedures, and organization of equipment for repetitive tasks in admissions, nursing stations, maintenance, and patient and medical procedure rooms.
If an improvement were made at a hospital, the center might pursue some of the seed funding to implement the same procedures at the other member hospitals, Schwarz said.
The Web site would be helpful for members to share information as well, said Bob Morr, vice president of the IHHA.
"One of the big pieces of this is that what any one of our members learns will be shared more broadly," he said, "so people don't have to reinvent the wheel."
The IHHA wrote a letter of support to the Regenstrief Foundation backing Purdue's effort to delve into the complex issue of health care.
Co. accounting firm, is familiar with what the partnership is trying to accomplish and thinks it can be successful.
One of the biggest advantages to the program, Abel said, is that it gives health care providers a chance to hear an outside perspective from Purdue staff or students.
"They're not going to look at it the way a nurse would; they're going to look at it the way an engineer would," he said. "My general impression is that it's an outstanding opportunity, not only for health care in Indiana but also for Purdue University and the residents of Indiana, because, theoretically, they're going to have better health care."
St. Vincent Health, a member of the IHHA, is working with the Regenstrief Center on a separate project that includes an initiative to link the patient information systems of the 16 central Indiana St. Vincent facilities. The project eventually would include parent St. Vincent Ascension Health's 65 hospitals nationwide. St. Vincent Ascension Health is based in St. Louis.
"We want to take what has been done in Indianapolis and be able to expand it faster to all 16 of our hospitals throughout central Indiana to make sure we have the same capability," said Deeni Taylor, chief strategy officer for St. Vincent Health.
The project is related to the mission of the Indiana Health Information Exchange to have all hospitals in the state share patient information. The IHIE is funded by the hospitals and the Regenstrief Institute, located at the Indiana University Medical School.
Hospitals are the major health care employers in Indiana. In 2003, their operating expenses totaled $10 billion, and they employed nearly 115,000 people, according to the IHHA. They admitted more than 700,000 patients, treated 2.5 million emergencies, and handled 15 million outpatient visits.
"The single most important thing that we're discovering is that health care professionals are quite aware that the system is not well-designed to deliver both the quality of care and the cost-effectiveness," Schwarz said. "We hope to learn what the problems and opportunities are."
Whatever is learned not only could be used in Indiana hospitals but those across the nation as well, Schwarz said.
The Regenstrief Center is housed in Purdue's e-Enterprise Center at Discovery Park. The Regenstrief Foundation is an offshoot of the Regenstrief Institute, which philanthropist Sam Regenstrief established in Indianapolis in 1969.