Download PDF

Andrea Ippolito, SDM ’11

Andrea Ippolito, SDM ’11

Last year, Andrea Ippolito was a member of an MIT research team that visited the Pentagon to meet with now-retired Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The MIT team was part of the Institute’s Lean Advancement Initiative, which connects students and researchers with organizations looking for systems thinking to improve efficiency and solve complex problems.

The Pentagon had a complex situation: Its leaders wanted to do a better job of providing behavioral health services to servicemen and women, as well as their families.

“Admiral Mullen charged us with evaluating the current behavioral health system of care and developing recommendations to help the military better manage post-traumatic stress and related conditions,” Ippolito said. “One area that we looked at is how can we better use technology to provide better continuity of care? A huge issue is access to care. Stigma is also an issue.”

Ippolito and the team traveled to military bases to meet military leaders and service members. She also interviewed behavioral health professionals and assessed barriers to quality and timely care to service members overseas and their families back home.

“A lot of times when you tackle these large-scale problems, you talk to the leaders,” she said. “I think where we can gain the most value is in talking to providers and service members at the execution level.”

The team’s final recommendations will likely include some element of telehealth, the idea of providing services remotely by using technology.

“Often the problem is there are providers available, just not in that location,” Ippolito said. “It’s leveraging that. Especially with behavioral health, it’s all about talking.”

“This is the MTV confessional generation,” she said. “Talking to a video camera—they’re comfortable with it.” Some servicemen and women said they find it easier to speak with behavioral health providers over video teleconference, because it provides the distance they need to discuss personal issues comfortably. Ippolito also expects the team’s recommendations will include suggestions to accelerate the military’s credentialing process for behavioral health professionals.

A scientist by training, Ippolito earned a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Cornell University. She began her career at Boston Scientific, where she worked on early-stage research and development.

Soon after starting at Boston Scientific, she and her manager initiated the company’s Communities of Excellence program, which developed a collaboration network across the company to reduce inefficiencies in research and development.

So in 2009, when Ippolito read an article in The New York Times about MIT and MIT Sloan initiatives to reduce the time and cost required to develop new drugs, she began to think about how her bioengineering background could help her lead efforts to improve healthcare delivery.

The article led her to MIT Professor Deborah Nightingale who, in turn, led her to MIT’s System Design and Management program. The program, a joint venture of MIT Sloan and MIT’s School of Engineering, prepares students to solve large and complex systems problems. It is, Ippolito paraphrased, “for those who want to lead engineering, not leave engineering.”

After graduation, Ippolito hopes to continue at MIT as a doctoral candidate in the Engineering Systems Division. She is a manager at Topera Medical, a Boston-area startup developing a system to help identify the electrical source of cardiac arrhythmias. As a problem-solver, a scientist, and a leader, Ippolito believes that when science meets management theory, big problems can be solved.

“MIT knows how to do that,” she said. “We’ve done it with aerospace industries. We’ve done it with everything else. Now let’s bring it to healthcare.”

Note: SDM references students by entrance date. Andrea will graduate in May 2012.