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Engineering new health-care solutions

Photo by Casey Bayer.

Northeastern University, a new member of the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT), held its first meeting of the Boston-based organization’s delegates on Tuesday for a discussion between health-care providers and engineers about developing innovative solutions to making medical practice safer and more efficient.

CIMIT is a consortium of teaching hospitals, research laboratories and engineering schools in and around Boston dedicated to inter-institutional collaboration among scientists, engineers and clinicians, helping to fund early-stage, high-risk ideas in the first phase of innovation.

At Tuesday’s meeting, held in Raytheon Amphitheater, James Benneyan, the director of Northeastern’s Center of Health Organization Transformation, spoke about the need for a systems engineering approach to solving complex health-care problems such as safety, efficiency, patient care, timeliness, efficiency and equity. Some 30 percent of health-care costs — about $760 billion a year — is waste, Benneyan said.

“Things are not good and for the most part, they’re getting worse, not better,” said Benneyan, speaking of America’s health-care system compared with those in other industrialized countries. “Poorly designed systems and processes are responsible for at least part of our problem.”

Benneyan said that while many of the health-care industry’s problems are on the front lines of patient care, some of the most complicated issues are best tackled by systems engineers who use computer models and other high-tech methods to model problems and test solutions.

“Most problems — 70 to 80 percent of them — can be solved with simple methods,” Benneyan said. “Others are very complex: maybe you’re designing a new hospital and you’ve got one shot at getting it right.”

Northeastern became a CIMIT member last year, joining consortium members Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston, Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Partners HealthCare and the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Northeastern’s membership in CIMIT supports the University’s research mission and its focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability.