This is a Guest Blogger post from Undergraduate researcher, Jessica Cleveland, from 2013. I had the opportunity to mentor her through an independent research project. Below she provides her personal perspective of IE’s in Hospitals. After graduating with her B.S. in industrial engineering and a minor in Health Services Administration from UCF, Jessica completed her MS in Operations Research from Northeastern University. She currently serves as an Operations Analyst at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
In the fall of my sophomore year I worked on a group project that made me realize Industrial Engineering skills could be applied to hospitals. The project involved analyzing the process of delivering food trays to patients during meal times at a local hospital. We found that the trays were being inspected for errors after they were already loaded. Because trays were loaded one in front of another, the inspection process required taking out the front tray in order to inspect the back tray, and then placing it back in its spot. The As-Is inspection process took approximately 2 minutes per cart. With an average of 45 carts being delivered per day, a total of 2 and a half hours were spent inspecting the carts and correcting errors. Suggesting that the nutritional services personnel conduct the inspection BEFORE loading trays into the cart reduced the daily process by 2 hours. So what value does that bring to the patient? This means that their food will not arrive cold or too early. By delivering edible food, fewer trays will be refused and patients will get the nutrients they need for a quicker recovery. Seeing first hand that even a simple improvement like this makes such a positive impact on someone’s mother, father, brother, or sister, is what made me passionate about pursuing a career, as an IE, in healthcare.
A little over 2 months ago I began an internship with another local hospital that sees 200-300 patients in the emergency department (ED) every day. With such high demand for our emergency department, there is campus-wide focus on ED Throughput, or how quickly we can get patients waiting in the emergency department seen by a doctor and admitted if need be. ED Throughput relies heavily on inpatient discharges and this is where my projects have been focused.
To some people I joke that my job is to look at numbers, but from those numbers I derive information, knowledge, and eventually wisdom. An example of information is the average turn-around times for the housekeeping staff to clean a dirty bed, or discharge cleans. This information I then turn into knowledge by analyzing the turn-around times and the number of discharge clean tasks by hour of day and day of week in comparison to the current staffing levels. By examining the staffing levels, turn-around times, and number of tasks I provide wisdom by determining the number of housekeepers needed per hour to accommodate discharge clean task demand.
As part of my job I am also responsible for populating and distributing various scorecards. These scorecards display measures of performance for various entities in the hospital, for example, the turn-around times for the housekeepers to clean dirty beds. Other scorecards include performance metrics for: nurses complying with hourly rounding initiatives, doctor communication with patients, lab turn-around-times; the list truly goes on. It is this kind of transparency that is needed in hospitals and IEs are the experts at producing it.
What I’ve learned is that ideas for change can come from anyone in the hospital, but finding the value in a change that verifies it as an improvement is what Industrial Engineers provide. By analyzing data, Industrial Engineers implement ideas in the most effective and efficient way.