by Melanie Magara
A sea change is on the horizon for the American health care system, and industry analysts are worried that none of the principal players are ready to manage that change.
Evolving health-benefit structures. New technology. Changes in the physician-hospital relationship. Growing numbers of uninsured patients. Movement toward integrated electronic patient records. Increasing calls for quality control and regulation.
“The list is endless, and not one of these issues can be managed without broad understanding of legal, financial, medical, regulatory, technical and ethical perspectives,” said health care consultant Cherilyn Murer. “Today’s healthcare leaders need cross-disciplinary training that complements their focused expertise.”
To that end, Murer and her husband, Michael, made a six-figure investment to jump-start a new health care initiative at Northern Illinois University, where Cherilyn serves as chair of the university’s governing board.
Faculty from four different colleges are working on the NIU Healthcare Policy and Management Initiative, exploring the emerging educational needs of health professionals and creating new certificate and degree programs to meet those needs.
One of the group’s first projects is a comprehensive survey of national health care executives.
CEOs, chief financial and operating officers, heads of nursing and information systems and hospital legal officers are being surveyed by NIU’s Public Opinion Lab to determine new program priorities. This study will help shape new program descriptions and will be discussed at a March meeting of the American College of Health Care Executives in Chicago.
Leading the initiative are Donna Munroe, professor of nursing in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences; Kathleen McFadden, professor of operations management in the College of Business; Gary Chen, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology; and Jay Naftgzer, visiting associate professor in the College of Law and former vice president of legal services for Well-Point, Inc., in Chicago.
“It’s critical for any new certificate or degree program to really reflect the needs of professionals in the field,” explained Munroe. “Based on what we’ve gathered so far, it’s clear that NIU has great breadth of expertise in the areas of most interest to healthcare providers.”
Program founder Cherilyn Murer agrees.
“They’ve already mapped existing NIU courses into potential new certificate and degree programs,” Murer explained, “and the results are exciting new, multidisciplinary curricula that I think will have great appeal to health care leaders in our region and beyond.”
The health care policy and management initiative tracks closely with priorities established last year in NIU’s comprehensive strategic plan, according to Provost Ray Alden.
“Expanding our commitment to health care leadership is one of the top priorities that emerged from our planning process,” Alden explained. “NIU is uniquely qualified to provide that leadership, and the Murers’ gift allows us to fast-track new program development in the health management field.”
Drawing on her own background in health care business and legal consulting, Murer said the need for greater cross-disciplinary understanding is a challenge she sees “on a daily basis.”
“The challenges we face in modern health care are complex, and they require broad, horizontal viewpoints,” Murer said. “How does the money work? What laws might have to change? Do patients have all the information they need to make good choices? How do insurance policies affect the way doctors practice medicine? Health professionals have to deal with all of these issues every single day, and they need a breadth of knowledge to handle them compassionately and effectively.”
To learn more about NIU’s Health Care Policy and Management Program and the larger NIU Healthcare Leadership Initiative, visit www.niu.edu/hli.