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Delivering health at ASU: innovation at the edge of medicine

nursing student practicing in a simulated environment
April 15, 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, executive vice president and university provost, ASU

“One of the things that happens at medical centers is that physicians are seen as experts, and that interferes with discourse across the whole university. (The College of Health Solutions) has physicians involved, but they are just some of the expert voices that are shaping some of the discourse.” 
– Keith Lindor, dean, ASU College of Health Solutions; executive vice provost, ASU Health Solutions Initiative

Keith Lindor is creating ways to involve Arizona State University students in the future of health care. He and the university’s new College of Health Solutions are thinking in terms of opportunities that come with the creation of a new model of health education and a radical redesign of health care itself.

Lindor, who earned his Doctor of Medicine at renowned Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., in 1979 and served as its dean from 2005-2011, spends a lot of time envisioning the future of health care in this country.

“We spend twice as much on medical care as any other country, but we rank 37th in terms of health outcomes,” Lindor points out. With health care already costly for many, the system in the United States is about to absorb large populations of aging baby boomers and many who were previously uninsured.

“Health care consumes 16 to 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product,” he notes. “It’s not surprising that there are a lot of people thinking about it.”

Enter an opportunity for practitioners and students alike. In 2012, ASU decided to go well beyond just thinking about it and to dive deeply into the opportunity to design a more efficient health care delivery model. In July, the university formed the College of Health Solutions and hired Lindor as its dean and executive vice provost of the Health Solutions initiative. The college will be an academic and administrative home for many of those involved in health solutions programs and act as a central hub for the many independent colleges and programs that are not part of the college but still part of the Health Solutions umbrella.

The formation of the college, combined with research, training and partnerships with health providers that will be managed under Health Solutions, positions ASU to address many short-term and long-term health care challenges facing the nation. The name Health Solutions defines its mission: to increase ASU’s impact and contributions to quality health outcomes for our communities.

Included under the Health Solutions banner are a handful of innovative, cutting-edge colleges and departments that will prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s health care changemakers and guardians: nutrition and health promotion, nursing and health innovation, science of health care delivery, a doctoral program in behavioral health, an office of clinical partnerships, and biomedical informatics.

And that’s just the sort of direction the university should be providing, according to Lindor.

“Years ago, hockey great Wayne Gretzky was asked how he was able to score so many goals,” Lindor remembers. “He replied that he skated to where the puck is going to be. We need to place ourselves where the field is going to be.”

Innovation at the 'blurry edge' of medicine

Health Solutions began not with the vision of the great things the university and its students could do, but with a realization of all the great things they already were doing.

“One of the reasons that ASU can play an important role in moving this along is that we don’t have an embedded academic medical center,” Lindor says. “People feel that progress happens most rapidly at the edges of fields, and ASU has been very good at creating more edges and blurring the edges of existing fields.”

Lindor, whose medical specialties include internal medicine and gastroenterology, was hired away from the Mayo Clinic because he had the “perfect background” for the job, says ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Betty Phillips. “He was instrumental in redesigning the curriculum at Mayo, and he was the one who first had the idea (for Health Solutions).”

Phillips, who investigates how people can change their eating habits and environment to combat obesity, says, “When we were working with the University of Arizona’s medical school, we started compiling a list of all health-related research ASU was doing, and we realized there already was a lot of good work going on right here.”

At its most basic level, the Health Solutions brings together different experts who have interests in health issues. “In my first month here I was connecting people who had never worked together after years at ASU,” Lindor says. The most important part of creating the college is that it embodies an official faculty home for them, Lindor says, a place where they can nurture and mentor today’s students, who will become tomorrow’s health care leaders.

“The challenge is to rethink how all health care is done, and for that we need a dedicated program.”

Success breeds success

If there is strength in numbers, the new college already boasts a sizeable alumni, as the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and School of Nutrition and Health Promotion are home to more than 14,000 alumni. Graduates who are making a difference in the health care industry can be found across the country and the world where they are leaders in their communities and professions. As agents for change, these Health Solution alumni serve in fields such as health care, education, state and national government, and nonprofit sectors. Their research and findings help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

The idea is that if we are going to change things we need people who are not just trained in medicine, but who are also trained in all the other factors important in providing health care,” says Phillips. “These medical students will learn health economics, finance, systems thinking, behavioral training and other important subjects.”

Written by Christopher Vaughan