Back pain is the most common and costly occupational disability in the United States; it is also among the most difficult conditions to diagnose. Using data compiled from five employers in 37 states, researchers at the W. P. Carey School of Business have been trying to unravel some of the mysteries of back pain and disability. One important conclusion: Overall health — especially mental health — appears to have a lot to do with how successful a worker is at resuming his or her job after a bout of back pain.

Banner Health System saved $5 million and saw misdiagnosis claims from patient lawsuits drop 58 percent in just a year thanks to an insightful collaboration between hospitals and doctors determined to change the status quo. Before the hugely successful collaboration began in 2004, the hospital and its physicians, even when sued jointly, fought patient allegations separately. Each party had its own insurance coverage, claims administration process and attorneys. It was an inefficient and even adversarial strategy, said Dale Schultz, system vice president of business health at Banner. Schultz' presentation was part of the "Achieving Innovation through Collaboration" symposium hosted by the Center for Advancing Business through Information Technology at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Americans concerned with the growing proportion of GDP devoted to healthcare would do well to consider the industry's supply chain. Soon the cost of drugs and medical supplies will equal the cost of labor and benefits in the U.S. healthcare system, a situation that could derail reforms aimed at increasing access and coverage. Professor Eugene Schneller, who heads the W. P. Carey School's Health Sector Supply Chain Research Consortium, offers his top 10 list of challenges for health care supply chain managers. This is the first in an occasional  series of opinion essays authored by experts at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

If, as healthcare experts say, supplies gobble up 30 percent of a typical American hospital's annual budget, then upgrading the medical supplies system is a sensible investment. At a recent conference sponsored by the Health Sector Supply Chain Research Consortium at the W. P. Carey School of Business, Sisters of Mercy Health System's vice president of performance consulting, Marita Parks, and Thomas Macy, CEO of Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital, described two different approaches to the supply chain challenge.

A small but growing number of U.S. hospitals are using a version of quid pro quo to achieve two crucial goals: lock in the "rainmaker" physicians — the ones who are at the top of their specializations — and secure the best deal from suppliers. The most creative have found that this model produces stellar results when applied as a strategic tool, according to speakers at a recent conference presented by the Health Sector Supply Chain Research Consortium at the W. P. Carey School of Business.