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Purdue's Regenstrief Center grows research efforts to design new U.S. health-care system

March 25, 2009

In an annual report released Feb. 2, the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering highlights research advancements in health information and learning technologies to support patients' self care, cancer diagnosis and treatment, and systematic analysis of the patient-centered medical home model for health-care delivery.

The center is focused on increasing the innovation of assistive technology for those with disabilities, and evaluating alternative care for patients with dementia. In addition, Regenstrief will play a key role in the planned Indiana Innovation Alliance, a proposal designed to leverage the research strengths of Purdue and Indiana universities in health care and the life sciences.

Regenstrief, which is Purdue's only integrated university-wide research effort in health care engineering, also formed research partnerships with three new institutions in the past 12 months -- the American College of Physicians, VHA Inc. and the Mayo Clinic. In all, the center now is collaborating with 13 partners on research projects.

"Regenstrief's research focus is especially timely as Congress, consumer groups and employers express an urgency that the U.S. health-care system needs reworking," said Steven Witz, Regenstrief's director.

"Health-care costs now exceed 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and are approaching 20 to 25 percent. Industry and political analysts believe the current financial crisis might shine a spotlight on the health-care industry's inefficiencies and speed reform. We think the solution is to change the fundamental way health care is delivered, applying systems-engineering principles to help redefine the industry."

The Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Foundation announced plans in 2008 to invest $11 million over the next five years to expand its research partnership with Purdue's Regenstrief Center. The center's new research projects include a:

* $1.4 million research center for Indiana that seeks to support innovation in developing assistive technology for individuals with disabilities. The Indiana Center for Assistive Technology was launched in December to coordinate demonstration projects to advance assistive technologies and data to support devices that can directly help individuals with disabilities. Regenstrief is collaborating with the Family and Social Services Administration's Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services on the project. For more, go to:

* $1.1 million effort to research primary-care delivery. Purdue researchers are developing models to improve patient scheduling and health-care access. This grant also includes funding for managing research databases to support these projects. For more, go to:

* $1.35 million project in a joint cancer-care engineering project involving Purdue, Indiana University and the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Indianapolis. The project brings together oncologists, health-service researchers, engineers, biologists and others in the war on cancer. For more, go to:

* Series of projects in collaboration with Purdue's Healthcare Technical Assistance Program. Since its launch three years ago, the program has completed $4 million worth of research work in performance improvement, patient safety and efficiency in health-care delivery. Statewide, it has conducted 59 projects for 35 hospitals.

Aided by those large-scale projects, Purdue university-wide generated a record $333.4 million in sponsored research funding in the just-ended 2007-08 fiscal year, up 11 percent from 2006-07. At Discovery Park, funding jumped to $73.7 million, up 36 percent from 2006-07.

In addition to growing research, Regenstrief is attracting researchers and students. The center now has 85 affiliated faculty researchers representing all of Purdue's 11 colleges, while nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate students are working with the center. Witz said research focuses on helping the industry deliver higher quality care to a consumer who will more actively participate in those decisions based on better information about benefits, risks, costs and alternatives for care.

"Renewed concerns about these issues of cost, quality and access to health care will accelerate efforts for a systems-driven industry reform," Witz said.

A recent report by Health Affairs indicates America's total health-care bill by year 2015 may hit $4 trillion a year, accounting for $1 of every $5 spent by consumers. At the same time, more than 47 million Americans, including 600,000 Hoosiers, currently live without health insurance.

In another report, consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers indicated that a health-care reform plan proposed by President Barack Obama would cost the federal government $75 billion the first year but would provide health insurance for 95 percent of Americans. By 2018, the figure is expected grow to $130 billion a year.

"Over the past decade, hundreds of conferences have been convened to identify problems and propose solutions to reform the nation's health-care system," Witz said. "But many of the proposed solutions have not worked in practice or have been delayed by lack of agreement among stakeholders. Regenstrief is becoming a national research resource for bringing stakeholders together to make real changes to improve the nation's current health-care system."

Regenstrief, launched four years ago with a $3 million grant from the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Foundation, also became Discovery Park's 11th major center during 2008. When it was created in February 2005, it was a part of Discovery Park's e-Enterprise Center.

Located in the $12.4 million Gerald D. and Edna E. Mann Hall in Discovery Park, the center helped create the Indiana Patient Safety Center in 2007 and was instrumental in a policy change to expand federal funding opportunities for Indiana's telehealth efforts. Center researchers last year also completed an Indiana State Department of Health project that outlined response gaps with the state's 94 county health departments in the event of a pandemic outbreak.

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