“The key to creating a built environment that more effectively supports the care delivery model and the business strategy and community health is better professional collaboration among all of the experts,” states Joe M. Powell, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based University Research Institute’s Healthcare Infrastructure Research group.
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Naming common job titles like engineers, facilities managers, designers and contractors as well as less frequently mentioned professions such as medical staff, information technology and insurance professionals, Powell finds greater collaboration to be among the greatest challenges facing the 13 health care leaders he recently assembled as part of a yearlong program to define and identify innovations in the health care infrastructure space.
Conducted in partnership with the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, the program’s executive board members include representatives from Cleveland Clinic; MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver; Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; and the Veterans Health Administration, Washington, D.C., among others.
While Powell’s search for innovative solutions to overcome collaboration challenges is still in progress, others are collaboratively chipping away at similarly vexing facilities management problems.
At the La Palma, Calif.-based Innovation Institute’s Petra Integrated Construction Strategies subsidiary, for instance, Chris Hickman, assistant vice president of planning and design, is attempting to develop a system that allows health care leaders to decide between repairing or replacing various mechanical-electrical-plumbing and telecommunication systems over the wide range of facilities found in integrated health care organizations.
“I'm running into these really conflicting needs with a lot of ambiguity about what is the right thing to do,” Hickman says. “How do we measure the relative merits of spending money on one thing versus the other thing versus complete replacement?”
The Institute, a collaborative of seven nonprofit health system owner-members focused on innovation, has several companies under its umbrella and Hickman believes his access to peers in design, general contracting, biomedical engineering and real estate management helps him to solve such conflicts.
“We have the benefit of working with others who work in the health care environment and to learn from and bounce ideas off each other,” Hickman says. “That's really interesting in terms of what people usually consider pure innovation.”
Phillip S. Dunston, professor of civil engineering at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., who has worked on virtual reality mock-ups of hospital spaces with the school’s Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, also touts the benefits of collaboration among various professions.
“We think of engineers as technical problem-solvers,” he says. “And the Regenstrief notion is bringing [forth] any knowledge domain that improves the efficiency of health care delivery.”