MITACS Projects

Health Care Operations Research

According to CIHI, The Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada's healthcare spending in 2007 was $160 billion, over 10% of the nation's GDP. Moreover, CIHI predicts that healthcare spending will increase at both a faster rate than both inflation and population growth. Some of the factors driving this increased spending are an aging population, attrition in the health care workforce and the pressure to adopt new and costly technologies.

These challenges call for immediate and sustained efforts to increase the efficiency and quality of health care delivery. Accordingly, "health and related life sciences and technologies" have been identified as one of the four priority areas for Canada's scientific community. The public too is well aware of these issues; access to quality health care was the second most important issue in voters’ minds during the 2008 federal election and as well a major issue in the US presidential election. Notwithstanding the remarkable advances in the field of medicine, the healthcare sector in Canada lags behind other service sectors in using operations research methods to improve the delivery of health care. Experience in the other service sectors suggest that there is significant potential to achieve efficiency and quality improvements in healthcare by applying and developing new operations research (OR) methods. Areas where OR can have an impact include the design and management of care delivery processes, medical decision making and health care policy development.

Operations research is the practice of using advanced analytical techniques and computer models to make better decisions, allocate scarce resources, remove congestion, and plan for the future. These models enable decision makers to assess the impact of system changes prior to their implementation and as well, optimize system performance when there are a multitude of ways to operate the system. During the past 50 years, OR methods have had a significant impact on improving performance and reducing costs in such diverse fields as retailing, customer service, manufacturing, the military, telecommunications and transportation.

Recently, as judged by the large number of sessions at major OR conferences and the appearance of special issues on health care applications in the major OR journals, health care has become the fastest growing OR research and application area. And, individual Canadian researchers have contributed significantly to this growth. This project seeks to bring these Canadian researchers together to develop new partnerships that will accelerate the development and application of health care OR methods and train tomorrow’s health care OR scientists. CIHI’s dire warnings must not go unheeded; this proposal seeks to provide a concrete way to address them.