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College of Health Solutions combines key players under one roof

April 23, 2013

Editor's note: This is an abbreviated version of an article that first appeared in the March 2013 edition of ASU Magazine.

“(Our) medical students will learn health economics, finance, systems thinking, behavioral training and other important subjects.”
– Betty Phillips, ASU executive vice president and university provost

Launched in 2012, Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions boasts a straightforward mission, one as bold as its schools: to increase the university’s impact and contributions to quality health outcomes for our communities. The multidisciplinary college is a key component in ASU’s strategic initiative to bring students, faculty and even community partners together to build a new model for health education.

And the timing couldn’t be better.

“It is time for a new model of integrated and interprofessional health education and delivery given the current costs and patient outcomes of the U.S. health care system,” says Keith D. Lindor, dean of the college and executive vice provost of Health Solutions at ASU. “America spends too much for health care that has sub-optimal outcomes. We need to move to a new model for health in this nation.”

The new college is serving students in a variety of ways never before offered. Under the College of Health Solutions umbrella are the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, the Department of Biomedical Informatics, the School of the Science of Health Care Delivery, and the Doctor of Behavioral Health Program. The college also will collaborate with affiliated ASU health units, including the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and numerous research centers and programs, such as the Center for Health Information and Research, the Health Care Delivery and Policy Program, and the Healthcare Transformation Institute.

The largest part of the College of Health Solutions is the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. Lindor, who earned his Doctor of Medicine at renowned Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., in 1979 and came to ASU after serving as the Mayo school’s dean from 2005 to 2011, points to the reason: “To me, the name speaks volumes. This is one of the few places in the country that emphasizes nutrition and exercise science,” Lindor says. “Much of the focus within the college is not on what happens in the hospital or the doctor’s office, it is on the things we do every day.”

Good nutrition and exercise are not just keys to staying healthy, they are also critical to making good health cost-effective. Lindor is fond of the saying, “A stitch in time saves nine,” and finds it highly applicable to staying healthy in the first place in order to avoid a cascade of other highly expensive interventions.

“As we work with our faculty and train our students to be transformative leaders in the future of health care, we are going to focus more on a healthy environment, which is one of the most important drivers of good health,” Lindor says. “We are seeing more links between behaviors like eating well and exercise and being healthy.”

Just one example is gastric bypass, which is the most effective intervention in diabetics who are obese, the dean says. He notes the cost of this single procedure is $100,000, and that there are likely to be many other expensive health needs for these patients.

“Compare this to the cost of teaching people what to do and how to eat to be more healthy,” and avoid obesity in the first place, he says.

The college, which offers many opportunities within the health arena by crossing traditional boundaries, also brings under its umbrella the School of the Science of Health Care Delivery, which will offer an innovative master’s degree in that subject to medical students receiving their training at Mayo Clinic Arizona.

“The idea is that if we are going to change things we need people who are not just trained in medicine, but who are trained in all the other factors important in providing health care,” says Betty Phillips, ASU executive vice president and university provost, who investigates how people can change their eating habits and environment to combat obesity.

“These medical students will learn health economics, finance, systems thinking, behavioral training and other important subjects.”

Having an understanding of all aspects of health care delivery is not just about producing the next generation of well-rounded professionals.

“Huge changes in the health care system are inevitable,” Lindor says. “We believe that the training our students receive in the science of health care delivery will prepare a wide variety of people involved in health care to navigate these changes and lead us to better systems that improve health outcomes, lower costs and enhance access.”

Phillips concurs: “The idea is that if you are going to make health care better, you need to have people who not only understand medicine, but also understand how it is delivered.”

ASU already has an unparalleled presence in the field of bioinformatics, and Health Solutions has made this capability a centerpiece of the new college. The public may think of bioinformatics as the use of computers in medicine, but professionals in the field define it more broadly as data-driven decision-making. The data can relate to everything from behavioral changes to interpreting whole-genome sequencing for cancer therapy.

Experts predict that in the future bioinformatics will play a key role in determining which drugs and therapies work and which don’t, but they will also be present in our everyday lives, such as in the collection and analysis of data on our smartphones about our activities, what we eat, our temperature, blood pressure, social interactions and other biological markers of our overall health.

The College of Health Solutions will be on the cutting edge of the new reality in health care delivery, and student offerings are many. Undergraduate and graduate programs are available in an array of interdisciplinary fields that challenge learners to think critically and to creatively resolve real-world issues.

Programs are available in nutrition, exercise and wellness, kinesiology, biomedical informatics, health sciences, the science of health care delivery, and additional areas of study currently being developed. Potential career paths might include: health care administration, hospital clinicians, medical practice management, dietitian, personal trainer, health coach, physical/occupational therapist, informatics, research, public health informatics, IT management in a health setting, and many others.

Written by Christopher Vaughan