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Healthy initiative
by Whitney Scott

When you or a loved one is ill, the last thing that you want to deal with is excessive paperwork, frustrating "red tape" and ineffective health care policies. Thanks to the University of Memphis' new Center for Healthcare and Technology (CHT), you may not have to anymore.

Along with Methodist Healthcare, the Center is working to help implement advanced technological systems to simplify processes and treatments within clinics and hospitals. Located on the U of M's campus within the FedEx Institute of Technology, the Center employs U of M faculty and offers great potential for the University to gain recognition as a leader in health care advancement through technology.

"The creation of the Center for Healthcare and Technology has brought together health researchers from across the University to investigate and intervene on some of today's most challenging issues in health care delivery and quality of care," says Dr. Andrew Meyers, vice provost of Research.

  Center for Healthcare and Technology

The Center for Healthcare and Technology at the University of Memphis is working to improve patients' clinical and hospital experiences by implementing advanced technological systems to simplify medical processes and treatments. The research is important in that most experts agree that as an industry, health care is at least 10 years behind other industries in the application of information technology. The Center is housed in the FedEx Institute of Technology. Photos by Lindsey Lissau.

In the summer of 2006 the FedEx Institute received a $750,000 gift from the Urban Child Institute to create a center that would conduct research as well as design and develop programs and policies to better serve patients throughout the Mid-South and beyond.

The idea for the Center originated from Scott Messmore, former CEO in Residence at the FedEx Institute. "Scott's passion for improving health care, and his interest in technology, led him to suggest a center devoted to the subject," says Dr. Paul Cornell, who serves as the Center's director. "Through a series of conversations with local leaders and physicians, the idea grew."

The CHT will investigate how information technology can help enhance a patient's health care experience. Research not only focuses on improving convenience for patients and hospital staff, but also on larger scale problems such as reducing medical error. The need for such a center has become vital for improved efficiency in health care systems.

"Experts contend that, as an industry, health care is at least 10 years behind other industries in the application of information technology," Cornell says. "Information technology (computers, PDA's, sensors, wireless devices) is different from medical technology (MRI machines, ultrasound devices and biomedicine). Medical technology continues to make rapid advances, whereas IT, which impacts the practice of medicine, is slow to be adopted."

So while medical technology is progressive and highly advanced, the health care community has been less active in adapting technology for their everyday use. Research has found that there is a great resistance to change, especially among those that are professionals and knowledgeable workers who have grown accustomed to certain systems. When the health care providers are resistant to try new technologies, the patient suffers and so this knowledge has become an important part of their development plan. "It's a bit like leading a horse to water Ñ you can get him there, but he has to be willing to drink," Cornell says.

The Center has big plans for the future.

"Ultimately, patients will benefit as the convenience and quality of health care improves," Cornell explains. "Along the way, the University will benefit as funding supports faculty and students pursuing research. Our sponsors, both public and private, will benefit as our research will suggest new ways of improving their practice and applying technology. We also anticipate that our work will lead to new commercially viable products for our sponsors."

Researchers at the Center decided to take a new path when designing their program and implementation policies. The team is taking a "systems approach," which means considering and improving every element of a hospital-based situation.

"We can't just look at IT," Cornell says. "We need to consider the workforce: their experience, training, trust and demographics. We need to consider the physical environment because we need space, power and cabling infrastructure to support our technology. We need to consider the patients, their expectations their willingness to use technology [and] their access to technology."

This approach requires the researchers to take an interdisciplinary structure. "That's why researchers from communications, business, psychology, health admin-istration and other academic units are now partnering with Methodist and other business and community groups to offer skilled, multi-disciplinary teams to meet these challenges," says Meyers.

Center for Healthcare and Technology  

The Center is funded by the Memphis-based Urban Child Institute, which works to enhance the health and well being of area children through education and intervention programs. This organization is the chief source of funding for CHT, which also receives fiscal donations from local businesses and corporations such as FedEx and Steelcase. "Corporations participate and fund our research as well. The results of the work should benefit their product development activities, thus applying our results wherever they do business," Cornell says.

Currently the Center is focusing specifically on the Mid-South community, but in the future the research will reach a global audience.

"Our findings should have broad application," says Cornell. "We have the good fortune of being co-located with several high-quality health care providers who have similar interests in improving the patient experience. Our initial research will be regional at first, but will branch out as we gain momentum and credibility in the field."

Having the Center located in Memphis will benefit the medical community and the city as a whole - as well as the University. The research findings that come out of the Center will be applied worldwide and will help gain recognition for the U of M.

"The CHT is another example of the unique role of the FedEx Institute of Technology in building innovative partnerships and collaborations across academic disciplines at the U of M and with the corporate and business community in the Mid-South," says Doug Hurley, vice president of Information Technology at the University.
Cornell describes the choice for the Center to be based in Memphis and on the U of M campus as "serendipity."

"Scott [Messmore] just happened to be here in Memphis, I happened to come along at the right time, the FedEx Institute had the right model in place and the Urban Child Institute was looking to fund another project at the University. All of the pieces were there, just waiting for us to put them together," Cornell says.

The development of the Center for Healthcare and Technology will ultimately benefit patients worldwide. Says Cornell, "I connected with the FedEx Institute in November of last year and was drawn to the idea because of its potential to make a difference."

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