Patient flow is getting so hot, that engineering schools are getting into the act.  A team of engineers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are analyzing patient flow throughout LA County/USC Hospital.

In the first study of its kind for USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, Hall and a team of engineers in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering partnered with Los Angeles County/USC Hospital to model the entire hospital, from top to bottom, as an integrated system. The objective was to identify the most significant bottlenecks, as well as the highest payoff strategies, for improving patient flow.

As Randolph Hall, principal investigator and professor of industrial and systems engineering in the Viterbi School says,

" To keep up with the demand,  patients must be transferred without delay from emergency room triage to ancillary services, such as radiology departments, for x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and other diagnostic tests, or on to operating rooms for surgery. Those who need to be admitted to the hospital must further wait for a bed to be freed up, which depends on the speed at which patients are discharged, rooms are prepared and patients are transferred among locations.

“All of these departmental activities are interdependent as patients flow through the emergency care system,” Hall said. “It's like a domino effect. If there is a delay in any one of those steps, every other department down the line will experience a delay.” 

No patient flow secrets are revealed, just the basics:  timely results reporting, efficient discharges, and good communications between Admitting, Environment Services and nursing units (did he forget timely orders?).  The focus of their efforts is to apply systems process engineering from manufacturing, distribution and transportation.  After interviewing more than 100 administrators and physicians, and developing a computer model for patient flow in the hospital, I can only imaging the cost if this was a commercial consulting engagement!

In parallel with new and improved procedures to manage patient flow, engineers in the Viterbi School are also developing a collaborative educational program with County/USC Hospital, which will include student placement in the hospital and a new course in industrial engineering on patient flow improvement.

Architectural firms that specialize in hospitals frequently offer services that include equipment and management consulting.  I'm sure these guys would love to hire graduates from the Viterbi School.