Correcting Healthcare

Dr. Vinod Sahney thinks the health care industry can learn a lot from air­plane pilots.

“People forget things, but every pilot knows that before you take off, you go through a check­list regard­less of how many years you have been flying,” said Sahney, a newly appointed pro­fessor of mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering in the Col­lege of Engi­neering. “Sim­ilar tech­niques can be applied in hos­pi­tals and oper­ating rooms, which can cut down on prob­lems and mistakes.”

Sahney’s schol­ar­ship focuses on solving the health-​​care crisis by using the prin­ci­ples of sys­tems engi­neering to improve treat­ment, patient safety and quality of care.

Northeastern’s health-​​care sys­tems engi­neering pro­gram aims to improve effi­ciency, safety and access to health care in much the same way air­lines, banks and other busi­nesses opti­mize their oper­a­tions. As Sahney puts it, “I always say, ‘If you see a good idea, be the first one to take it and apply it.’ ”

Prior to joining the North­eastern fac­ulty, Sahney served as Senior Vice Pres­i­dent and Chief Strategy Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mass­a­chu­setts. He is also an adjunct pro­fessor of health policy and man­age­ment at the Har­vard School of Public Health and Senior fellow of The Insti­tute for Health­care Improve­ment. He has been elected to both the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine and the National Academy of Engi­neering. Before joining Blue Cross he was Senior Vice Pres­i­dent at the Henry Ford Health System for 25 years. He earned his PhD in indus­trial engi­neering and oper­a­tions research from the Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-​​Madison in 1970.

He said the health-​​care industry, which spends roughly $3 tril­lion a year, has yet to mod­ernize the way it treats patients, tracks inven­tory or even sched­ules appoint­ments. Con­vincing med­ical pro­fes­sionals to con­sider new approaches is a key step toward improving the safety, effi­ciency and respon­sive­ness of the field, he said.

“A mis­take with a person’s health is a lot more serious than a mis­take in making some part in a fac­tory,” he said. “Because hos­pi­tals and doc­tors have not stan­dard­ized oper­ating pro­ce­dures, you end up with patients get­ting infec­tions and suf­fering from com­pli­ca­tions. We know that we can we apply sys­tems engi­neering con­cepts to make sure that those mis­takes don’t happen.”

Dr. Sahney will work on solving these prob­lems with indus­trial engi­neering and oper­a­tions research pro­fessor James Ben­neyan, the director of Northeastern’s health-​​care sys­tems engi­neering pro­gram who leads two fed­er­ally funded, multi-​​university research cen­ters at North­eastern: the National Sci­ence Foundation’s Center for Health Orga­ni­za­tion Trans­for­ma­tion, which is working develop sys­tems engi­neering solu­tions to broad prob­lems throughout health care; and the New Eng­land Health­care Engi­neering Part­ner­ship, a Depart­ment of Vet­erans Affairs Engi­neering Resource Center which is devel­oping and applying sys­tems and indus­trial engi­neering methods sim­ilar to those used suc­cess­fully in auto­mo­tive and other indus­tries to create effi­cient, safe, effec­tive, and reli­able health care processes.

David Luzzi, dean of the Col­lege of Engi­neering, said, “Dr. Sahney is a pio­neer and one of the world’s fore­most author­i­ties in health-​​care sys­tems engi­neering, and we are extremely pleased and for­tu­nate to have him join our fac­ulty. America clearly needs a far smarter health-​​care model and Northeastern’s lead­er­ship in this realm will be dra­mat­i­cally advanced through the efforts of Dr. Sahney, Dr. Ben­neyan and their colleagues.”

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Related Faculty: Vinod Sahney

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering