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Photo of the Molecular Science and Engineering buildingHarold Smalley at HMSS conference1981 Photo of Harold Smalley and his students

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Health Systems Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
828 West Peachtree Street, NW
2nd Floor
Atlanta, GA 30332-0477
404.385.8193 (phone)
404.385.7452 (fax)


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The History of Health Systems @Georgia Tech

The Health Systems program at Georgia Tech was founded by Dr. Harold Smalley when he came to the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) from the University of Pittsburgh in 1958. With the recent growth in hospitals and number of patient beds, concern grew relating to finding efficiencies to the hospital system while controlling rising costs. This need motivated pioneers in industrial engineering (IE) to apply IE principles to the hospital environment and helped build interest in the field.

Photograph of Harold Smalley, Lilian Gilbreth, and John Freeman

Harold Smalley, Lillian Gilbreth, and John Freeman

At the time, Dr. Smalley was involved in research relating to hospital management engineering, efficiencies in the surgical suite, and healthcare dietary programs. He continued his innovative research at Tech and sponsored several Ph.D. students. After graduation, many of these students either went on to educate the next generation of specialists at other university IE programs, establish companies working in the hospital systems field, or take positions within hospital related organizations to analyze, design, and implement improved systems.

Dr. Smalley identified 40-50 persons across the nation that were considered to be health systems professionals (or hospital industrial engineers as we called them at that time) actively working in healthcare organizations and hospital management, and as the number grew, a need for a professional society became evident. With the help of Harold Smalley, the Hospital Management System Society (HMSS) was certified on the Georgia Tech campus with 47 charter members in November of 1961. The first meeting of the society took place with Harold Smalley serving as the Executive Director. Later HMSS affiliated with the American Hospital Association and then later became the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in 1986. HIMSS has become the professional society of choice for most practitioners involved in hospital management engineering and healthcare information technology and now represents about 26,000 members.

Photograph of Harold Smalley and John Freeman Book - Hospital Engineering Management

Hospital Industrial Engineering
by Harold Smalley and John Freeman

Of note, one of Smalley's Ph.D. students, John R. Freeman, excelled in the field. John Freeman received his MS in 1964 and Ph.D. in 1967 from Georgia Tech and among several works, Smalley and Freeman published Hospital Industrial Engineering; A Guide to the Improvement of Hospital Management Systems in 1966. The book was well received and in 1968 was named IIE Book of the Year. The publication further contributed to the reputation of the program and continues to be a well read reference today.

After leaving Georgia Tech, Dr. Freeman founded and directed the Health Systems Research Center at the University of Florida and contributed in the founding and management of Medicus Systems Corporation. Among his other many accomplishments, he was one the leaders of the Hospital Management System Society (HMSS) from 1960 to 1970 and was involved in opening hospitals in the Saudi Arabia region.

In the 1990's, the Georgia Tech campus when through some consolidation and the Health Systems program was brought back into ISyE. The program became relatively small in size and scope until the program was identified as a key strategic area for growth and development. To lead that effort, Dr. François Sainfort, Ph.D joined ISyE in 2000 as professor and director of the Health Systems Research Center. Prior to his arrival at Georgia Tech, Dr. Sainfort was a professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with joint appointments in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Preventive Medicine. During that time, he was also program director for the Health Systems Engineering graduate program at Wisconsin-Madison.

For the next five years, Dr. Eva Lee and Dr. Joseph Wu, along with key Georgia Tech alumni David Cowan, Nate Kaufman and Steve Rushing, worked on developing a new vision for the Health Systems program, establishing a network of relationships among for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations in the healthcare industry, and forging links with other Schools at Tech as well as the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University in order to develop and expand the graduate program.

In 2006, the Health Systems Institute was established by the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The Health Systems program moved from ISyE, although the organizations still have strong ties.

In more than 40 years of evolution, the program has grown to have three major themes; 1) Biological and Biomedical Operations Research; 2) Healthcare Delivery Operations Research; and 3) Management, and Knowledge Management and Information Technology which follow the College of Engineering's major initiatives in Bioinformatics, Quantitative Medicine, Computational Biology, and Nanomedicine. The Georgia Tech Health Systems program now has approximately 600 alumni with around 80 holding bachelor degrees, 500 holding masters degrees, and approximately 20 holding Ph.Ds.

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