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Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and LSU are designing a health care systems engineering program where students will tackle complex issues that providers face.

The collaboration, the first of its kind in Louisiana, will apply principles of systems engineering to health care delivery, said Scott Wester, the Lake's chief executive officer.

The influence of that type of work is visible in everyday applications, such as the air traffic control system that coordinates planes taking off and landing, Amazon's ability to deliver hundreds of thousands of packages each day and each level of the oil and gas industry, from production to delivery to refining.

"Health care engineering is the relentless pursuit of better," Wester said.

The United States spent an estimated $3.4 trillion on health care in 2016, roughly 18 percent of the gross domestic product, which is the total amount of goods and services the country produces. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expects health care spending to grow by 5.8 percent each year through 2025.

“If health care systems engineering can save 1 percent, just 1 percent of the budget escalation going on in health care, we’d save billions,” LSU President F. King Alexander said.

The new engineering program is being funded by $500,000 in grants from nonprofits that include the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, which is the parent company of Our Lady of the Lake, and the W.M. Keck Foundation, which supports scientific, engineering and medical research. The Lake-LSU collaborative joins an elite group that includes Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Georgia Tech.

Dr. Tonya Jagneaux, medical director of quality and safety at the Lake, said the U.S. has the best medicine and the best research, but the health care system ranks poorly.

Health care services engineering could help remove some of the barriers that prevent that care from being delivered as efficiently as it could, she said. The discipline has a wide range of applications. It could reduce wait times in emergency departments, clinics and operating rooms or even redesign hospital rooms so that patients think more about getting better than how sick they are.

Craig Harvey, associate dean for academic affairs of LSU’s College of Engineering, said the program now has 15 undergraduates, and the partners hope to put 25 to 50 students through the program each year.

The collaborative also plans an online master’s degree so the program won’t be limited by location, he said. This way physicians or interns around the state can take courses, as well as local health care professionals.

Those people have busy lives, Harvey said. They may not be able to make a 5 p.m. class but they can go online at 9 p.m. to take a course.

The program also will include an incubator where engineering students and Lake physicians will work together on problems in a live environment, Harvey said. Most of the time, “engineering stuff” isn’t done in real-world conditions.

Harvey said he hopes that the engineering program eventually will include other medical partners, such as members of the insurance industry and medical products makers.

The collaborative members would come together to solve health care problems of all magnitudes, he said. They may design a wearable device that sends an alert to a doctor if patients aren’t taking their medicine or are in danger of a heart attack.

That way, the doctor can call the patient, tell him or her to come in for an evaluation, and prevent that type of problem, Harvey said.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.