Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Fix a process and save some lives

Most of us have spent more time than we want in hospitals and doctors’ offices.

While there, industrial and systems engineering types usually can spot a plethora of options for process improvement. For example, sometimes it takes days for a hospital to request a patient’s medical records from specialty doctors. Perhaps the office setup at your primary care physician blocks the receptionist’s views of the waiting room, meaning sick people often sit, forgotten. Knowledge about patients gets dropped during shift changes. And it can seem like the unit doesn’t have enough nurses to handle all the people needing their care.

That’s where healthcare systems engineers come in, tackling those problems of information technology, queuing, knowledge transfer, staffing and a host of other ailments. For Navicent Health, based in Macon, Georgia, those ills included an outdated pay system and mismatched staffing levels and call volume.

Despite instances of excessive salaries, some shifts of emergency medical service workers had to handle too many calls with too few ambulances, while others had too many workers and not enough calls. Dropped calls were transferred to a local competitor, costing the system in revenue and reputation.

Casey Bedgood details how management teamed with the workforce to solve the issue in “Optimizing Emergency Services with Lean Six Sigma.” A black belt team filled with personnel who received IISE-certified training revamped pay policies and scheduling. In an industry where time equals lives, the improvements have shaved 37,000 minutes off emergency response times. Other metrics, such as call variation per ambulance, also improved.

This is the kind of thing healthcare systems engineers do – define problems, find fixes, implement them and help clinicians save lives.

Want to find out more? IISE’s Society for Health Systems sponsors the annual Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference, scheduled this year from March 1-3 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando, Florida. Visit www.shsconference.org for more details.

The information you learn and the processes you fix could keep a whole lot more people breathing for a long time.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.