UM Hosts Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Engineering Meeting

On the same day that President Barack Obama and Congressional representatives met in Washington to discuss health care reform, a historic gathering of a different sort—one composed not of lawmakers, but of scientists and scholars—convened on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus to address the issue from another perspective: how the field of engineering can help improve medical care for the benefit of all.

“When you think about the future of health care, there’s no question that the ideas, ideals, and capacities of engineering have a great deal both to offer and to gain from a closer collaboration with the counterparts in health care for improving health in our country and around the world,” Harvey Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), told an audience of more than 300 people at UM’s Storer Auditorium on February 25.

His comments were part of the first-of-its-kind joint regional meeting between the Institute and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The summit, organized by UM College of Engineering Dean James M. Tien, Ph.D., and Distinguished Research Professor Daniel Berg, Ph.D., featured presentations by scientists and physicians—among them Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D. – and a panel discussion, moderated by UM President Donna E. Shalala, that focused on the role of engineering in improving health care.

“Our reason for organizing and bringing together such a renowned group of NAE and IOM members was to highlight how technology can deal with biological and health care issues, or what I call ‘technobiology’ solutions,” said Tien.

“By adopting the language of engineers, we can lift what is undoubtedly the world’s most medically advanced and innovative nation to higher and more equitable levels of patient care and delivery,” Shalala said, noting that the time is right for technobiology breakthroughs.

But despite its innovative capacity, the United States has been remiss in not channeling those skills to help solve pressing problems, said NAE President Charles Vest, Ph.D. What is needed, he said, is more collaboration among the three national academies charged with dispensing scientific and medical advice to decision-makers and the public.

To that end, “the Institute of Medicine and the NAE are planning to increase our interaction … to do more work to bring American innovation and innovative capacity to one of the most important challenges of our time, which, of course, is health,” Vest said.

During his presentation, “Autonomous Innovations in Health Care,” Dean Goldschmidt drew a parallel between technology and biology, noting that the Blue Gene supercomputer’s ability to repair itself is something the human body does every day as it continuously repairs arteries damaged by activities such as smoking and eating lipid-rich foods.

Noting President Obama’s insistence that medical information be at the fingertips of health care providers, Goldschmidt described hospitals as information-gathering organizations that collect all sorts of data—from a patient’s race and age to susceptibility for certain conditions such as hypertension and heart disease.

He said hospitals must have a mechanism in place that automatically triggers health care teams to not only tend to an immediate medical crisis but also systematically address other problems a patient may have.

Presentations were also made by William Stead, M.D., associate vice chancellor for health affairs, chief strategy and information officer, and McKesson Foundation Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University; Van C. Mow, Ph.D., chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering; and William Rouse, Ph.D., executive director of the Tennenbaum Institute at the Georgia Tech and a professor in the College of Computing and School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

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