This data illustrates that the current system is flawed, evidenced by the level of patient frustration and dissatisfaction. Several factors contribute to this patient dissatisfaction, including the absence of effective communication, lack of trust in the provider, ambiguity concerning timelines and continuity of care, and the elongated time between the steps in the process.
These alarming figures and ultimate patient dissatisfaction undoubtedly illustrate that reform is imperative. The initial step in this reformation process is to identify the factors that contribute to these disturbing trends, and the challenge lies in the identification and appointment of individuals best suited for this task. Industrial and Systems Engineering, a relatively new field of study, provides professionals with the theoretical knowledge, training, and experience necessary for successfully identifying systemic weaknesses and articulating subsequent solutions that would ultimately improve the standard of care for all American citizens.
Industrial Engineers – Their fit into Healthcare
Industrial engineering was developed and defined in the automobile industry with the Ford Motor Company leading the way. This engineering specialty subsequently spread to other car companies and eventually to a variety of industries. In each of these industries, specific methodologies were applied with the goal of increasing efficacy and productivity for each specific company or industry sector.
One of those approaches, the Six Sigma methodology, involves improving the quality of production by identifying defects in the manufacturing process and removing them. This, in turn, minimizes variability in both the business and the manufacturing processes, thereby minimizing costs and maximizing profit. “Six Sigma” is a statistical term and results in a rating that reflects the percentage of products created without defects. In this process, 99.99966% of the products manufactured are expected to be free of defects, meaning that given one million opportunities for something to meet required specifications in a process, 3.4 or fewer of them will be flawed . The Six Sigma method is an example of a tool that industrial engineers can use to analyze a dysfunctional system such as health care. Their specialization in optimization makes them prime candidates for fixing a system whose problems can be broken into a few major factors.
Poor communication between Healthcare Professionals
A study conducted by industrial engineers in Jackson, Mississippi, which surveyed 44 patients in order to determine patient satisfaction following a hospital visit, provides an example of this method. The survey results show that the number of nurses with whom patients were required to communicate was inversely correlated to the patients’ satisfaction and perceived quality of care . After analyzing the survey results, the hospital changed its policies, and researchers found that minimizing the number of staff members the patient must communicate with led to less frustration and greater satisfaction, indicating that the new policies had a positive impact on communication and overall quality of care.
Industrial engineers possess the knowledge and skills necessary to design reliable survey instruments as well as the ability to analyze the resulting data in a technically sound and efficient manner.
Poor communication with Patients
Industrial engineer Sherry Weaver first noticed this problem while at the hospital with her father, an experience that inspired her to use her background in engineering to improve the efficacy of communication within this healthcare setting. Weaver defines this problem as the lack of a “quarterback” on the team of specialists working with a patient. She contends that the shortfall in the system is that no one single individual is assigned to coordinate scheduling and be in direct and consistent contact with the patient; in other words, there is no “quarterback” .
A partnership between the Industrial and Systems Engineering department and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California focuses on reducing the time it takes for patients to transition through each step in a hospital stay. Their research demonstrates that flow charts are the most effective way to organize information that would minimize the time between each step in a hospital visit. Thus, engineers take into account each patient’s level of medical need, the obtainable resources in the hospital, and time and space available and required for treating each patient.
To understand how industrial engineers outline and apply Six Sigma processes using flow charts, refer to figure 2 above, which displays a sample flow chart similar to those used in ongoing research at USC.
“The engineering approach makes this study unique,” said David Altman, Assistant Dean of the Keck School of Medicine. “We’re looking at process issues that we don’t normally look at. There’s a lot that the industrial world has been figuring out that we don’t know much about in healthcare, but it could be applied to us and be tremendously beneficial” .
- Works Cited
-  Northeastern University College of Engineering. (2012). Why Healthcare Systems Engineering?. Northeastern University College of Engineering [Online]. Available: http://www.coe.neu.edu/healthcare/about/why.html
-  General Electric. (2014). What is Six Sigma?. General Electric [Online]. Available: http://www.ge.com/en/company/companyinfo/quality/whatis.htm
-  A. Salehi, L. Strawderman, and L. Ruff. (2014). The Importance of Communication for Patient Satisfaction. Society for Health Systems: Leading Healthcare Improvement [Online]. Available: http://www.iienet2.org/SHS/Details.aspx?id=15572
-  D. Brandt. (2012, Feb.). Engineers Who Make a Difference: Closing the Waiting Gap. Industrial Engineer: Engineering and Management Solutions at Work [Online]. Available: http://www.iienet2.org/IEMagazine/Details.aspx?id=29262
-  D. Ainsworth. (2005, Jan. 11). Patient Flow. University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering Journal 2005 [Online]. Available: http://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2005/2005_01_31_patients.htm