IISE consulting team onboards OhioHealth to ‘Train, Track and Talk’
Looking to increase utilization for its operating rooms and correct scheduling inefficiencies, OhioHealth turned to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) Consulting Team to enhance the use of surgeon block scheduling at Riverside Methodist Hospital.
The team of ISE students Kayli Bell, Lathania Escobar Soto, Muheeb Hijazeen, Ange Robles and Ethan Wallace came together with “a goal of optimizing resources by analyzing data and putting creative solutions into practice,” Hijazeen says.
Each semester, the IISE student chapter vice president and the team’s mentor, Associate Professor Tracy Owens, source projects that the members will work on by connecting the students with local companies. “In Fall ’23, we all expressed interest in working on this project specifically and were then assigned to it,” says Bell, who serves as IISE vice president of consulting. “Going into this project, our opportunity was to increase the utilization of block schedules and operating rooms. However, the rest of the project was fairly open-ended and so our team had to work through the scoping of the project and determining what deliverables were appropriate.”
They implemented the IQueue tracking system, an AI/ML-based solution, to gather information about block scheduling utilization, creating a standard operating procedure after visiting with the OhioHealth partners and observing the surgeons. The result: “Train, Track and Talk,” or the 3Ts as they became known.
Hijazeen and Bell had previously staffed a project for Nationwide Children’s Hospital as part of a Spring 2023 IISE Consulting Team and were able to apply skills learned from that experience. “During my time on that project, I learned that I have a passion for helping to create change in hospital settings,” Hijazeen says.
Bell adds that it was “a great opportunity to learn how the healthcare industry works and what it takes to make actual changes in hospitals.”
Soto also had experience in a medical center having helped to optimize operating equipment for Ohio State East Hospital last year. “During this time, I got to see the fast-paced nature and complexity within the healthcare insurance industry,” she says. “I learned how important it was to truly understand the situation at hand, asking questions to gain knowledge from those performing the process firsthand and developing a solution that works for them.”
Robles added experience with data collection after having worked on a project with Covetrus in the spring of 2023. “This veterinarian supply company was moving locations, and it gave my team the opportunity to learn about how to take in data and create optimal placements for their items,” Robles says. “I learned the importance of data collection and interpretation because, for projects like this one, it can really determine whether the solution will be successful or not.”
Wallace rounded out the team’s skillset with knowledge gained during a process engineer co-op with Thyssenkrupp Bilstein. “Block scheduling is a complex process,” he says, “so our preliminary discussions mainly surrounded the mechanics of block scheduling and who all the stakeholders were in their current process of developing the block schedule. Once we understood how block scheduling worked, we then began to ask some questions about where they wanted to take this process. We knew that the surgery scheduling department was trying to increase their utilization of both the physicians and the operating rooms, but we didn't know what avenue they were interested in pursuing.”
The team worked with Juli Kerscher, business operations manager of Riverside Methodist Hospital’s surgery department, and also spoke to the block scheduling committee to learn more about the issues they were having and to discuss potential solutions.
“We learned that this project is part of a larger effort to make improvements to the block scheduling process,” Soto says. “That was an insightful piece of information to discover because now we knew that our solution had to fit into that picture.”
Along the way, they discovered a key component would be standardizing the process of communication between physicians and the block scheduling committee. “We also wanted to set specific metrics in place to define ‘good’ block utilization so physicians could self-monitor their performance without consulting the block scheduling committee,” Robles says.
The team encountered challenges including addressing different surgery service lines, various hospital protocols and information being stored in separate software programs. “This is yet another example of nuances in how the block scheduling process occurs,” Wallace says. “Instead of trying to address each nuance individually, we instead looked at how the nuances fit into the bigger picture of the block scheduling process so that we could make guidelines that could be applied to the whole surgery department.”
The findings fit within the framework of the 3Ts. According to Bell, “The idea is that implementing this process will take three major steps: training the staff and educating them about the new system in place; tracking the progress of certain physicians and how they're managing their block time; and then making sure to have conversations with physicians if their block time appears to be mismanaged.”
As part of the IISE Consulting Team Final Presentations, the group presented their process improvement solution to students, staff and project sponsors.
“The block scheduling committee was most excited about the annotated flow chart as it provided a quick and easy visual reference for everyone who's affected by the block scheduling process,” Hijazeen says. “The flow chart summarized the three elements of ‘Train, Track, Talk’ by connecting the dots of when to train, when to track and when to talk about a physician’s block schedule.”
Robles says the plans are to begin implementing some of the suggested changes immediately while continuing to refine them throughout the year. Wallace says the method is one that could apply to any standardized process. “The great thing about this ‘Train, Track, Talk’ method is that it’s modular, so each portion can be interchanged with whatever is appropriate for this situation,” he says.
Story by Nancy Richison