Healthcare Bottleneck Relief

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Many health-care industry bottlenecks can be eliminated, resulting in major improvements in efficiency, cost savings and patient care when hospitals borrow principles from production lines on the factory floor, according to researchers in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

At UB's Center of Excellence for Global Enterprise Management, Li Lin, Ph.D., professor of industrial engineering, and his colleagues apply industrial-engineering tools, including Six Sigma and other lean enterprise methodologies originally developed for manufacturing processes, to improve the operations and competitiveness of hospitals.

"In today's competitive environment, especially with the severe shortage of skilled nurses, the pressure on streamlining hospital operations continues to increase," said Lin. "Health-care managers are seeking new perspectives and creative ways to manage their business. We can engineer medical services with improved cost, quality and efficiency."

Lin and his colleagues use animated computer simulations that are based on statistical analyses -- routinely used to model the flow of parts through complex manufacturing processes -- to uncover the bottlenecks or potential problem areas in health-care facilities.

"What do cars on highways, manufactured parts in a factory and patients in a hospital have in common?" he asks. "They all move. We use computer simulations to analyze how patients flow through hospitals, while ensuring that the drive for efficiency doesn't dehumanize patient care. As industrial engineers, we are trained to always consider the human factors in any system."

The simulations also are ideal, Lin says, for demonstrating to hospital boards of directors the necessity for new facilities or staff.

"Modern medical technology needs modern management," says Lin.

His computer simulations have helped Buffalo's Mercy Hospital envision how increased patient volume will cause congestion in its...
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