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Updated 10:00 AM March 14, 2005
 

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Innovative tools measure health of Medical School


When leaders at the Medical School want to measure the impact that new National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants will have on the institution, the answer can be found in seconds. When they want to compare how a department or faculty member compares with others within the Medical School, they now are armed with an immediate way of finding that information.

The Web-based system puts the Medical School at the forefront nationally of technology that provides quick data analyses and an opportunity for financial, space and faculty planning for several years in the future.

The tools created at the Medical School can be used to evaluate productivity of faculty members and departments, which can be critical when trying to forecast future research needs, such as when a new research building may be required.

While some corporations have conducted business this way for years, a rigorous business model like this is unprecedented among medical schools.

"We have made it possible for people to get the information they need to make sound business decisions, with just a few clicks of the mouse," says Dr. Allen S. Lichter, dean of the Medical School. "This allows us to use the most current information and to make solid projections about plans for the future."

The system comprises three parts: M-Stat, which makes available information about space allocations, faculty appointments and compensation, research submissions, expenditures and awards, clinical activity and more; M-Dash, an application that knits together the information from M-Stat and turns it into easy-to-understand and useful charts, graphs and projections; and M-Alert, a function still undergoing testing that will send e-mails to users when selected numbers rise above or fall below certain levels.

"The point of data collection at the Medical School is to provide the basis for intelligent business decisions," says Bill Elger, executive director for administration and chief financial officer of the Medical School. "This is a time when funding sources in the world of scientific research are increasingly uncertain. We need to be better stewards of our resources to help ensure we have resources to reinvest in growing the academic enterprise."

Other institutions would be wise to follow suit, says Jack Krakower, associate vice president, Division of Medical School Services & Studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"I am a very strong fan of what the University of Michigan Medical School is doing," Krakower says. "The system is easy to use and presents complex data in a friendly way."

When Lichter and Elger presented their new approach at the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges, deans and administrators from other universities wanted to know how they could incorporate the same techniques at their institutions.

With information readily available through M-Stat and M-Dash, Elger and colleagues have moved toward a concept called "beyond budgeting," which looks several years down the road instead of relying on year-by-year budgeting. M-Stat and M-Dash help with this process by allowing users to customize information and to perform "what-if" scenarios.

For instance, Lichter has a goal of increasing funding until the Medical School is fifth among universities receiving NIH grants.

Graphs on M-Dash illustrate that if U-M funding were to grow at a rate of 2.5 times the average, and other institutions continued at their current growth rates, the school would move up to fifth in the country by 2008 (from the current position of 11th).

Providing access to all the administrators and department chairs has increased the level of transparency of information at the Medical School, says Dr. James Woolliscroft, executive associate dean.

"That is one of the greatest services these tools provide: They help us clear up misconceptions and they ensure that we are all working with accurate information," Woolliscroft says.

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