Engineering health reform

The health care reform bill enacted last month is the most far-reaching domestic policy the nation has seen in decades. Only time will tell us all the ramifications of this historic legislation. As the acting dean of the College of Engineering I ask, how can engineers help patients, physicians and providers make the best use of the changes ahead?

The bill will demand more of the health informatics profession, for starters. Medicare can now pay hospitals based on the quality of their care, so better data collection tools will be needed to track and measure this performance. Administrative simplification is another target of the bill, an elusive target but one that is well served by engineering greater efficiencies. Here in the college, faculty in such departments as EECS, IEOR and BioE are investigating new computational and management approaches to support these goals.

The bill also creates Medicaid home-care programs for enrollees with multiple chronic conditions. Several of our engineers, from Ruzena Bajcsy of EECS to Dorian Liepmann of BioE and ME, are working on devices and systems that allow such patients to manage their care at home and avoid costly hospital stays.

Looking at the bill in its entirety, we can see that adding at least 30 million new customers to our health care system will place serious strains on delivery. Engineers who work on the scale of large, complex systems should see this as an opportunity for innovation. Can we make health care “better, faster and cheaper”—to invoke the mantra of information technology—for this rapidly expanding market?

One of the bill’s revenue sources is a potential cause for concern: an excise tax of 2.3 percent on certain medical technology products. Will such a tax inhibit innovation? I, for one, hope not.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Albert P. “Al” Pisano
Acting Dean, College of Engineering
FANUC Professor of Mechanical Systems
Email Acting Dean Pisano