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Techniques for making Barbie dolls can improve health care


Ailing health care industry will adopt operations research and manufacturing techniques by 2010, says expert

Bowing to crushing increases in the cost of delivering medical services to Americans, the troubled health care system will begin to adopt operations research and other techniques that have proven successful in the relatively unfashionable manufacturing sector, predicts a leading expert. "By the end of the decade, the health care industry will realize that operations research, IT, and other advanced techniques that manufacturers have been using for 15 years to reduce the cost of making items like toys and computer chips will also improve health care delivery," said operations researcher William P. Pierskalla, the John E. Anderson Professor and former dean of the Anderson School at UCLA. "These techniques offer major cost, quality, and access improvements to the healthcare system."

The remarks are scheduled to be delivered at the annual meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®) on Sunday, October 24 at 11:40 AM in the Plaza Building Ballroom A of the Adams Mark Hotel in Denver. "There’s a new alignment of the stars, and these stars are embracing operations research and information technologies that can bring major cost, quality, and access improvements," he says.

Prof. Pierskalla sees the trend of greater encouragement for the use of operations research and similar techniques coming from business groups like the Business Roundtable, Leapfrog Group, and National Association of Manufacturers; governmental agencies like the National Science Foundation; non-governmental organizations like the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; and advocates for the elderly like AARP.

Operations research, known as the "Science of Better," is the discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions.

Mathematical modeling tools characteristic of operations research that are found in manufacturing have already begun finding their way into delivering medical care, maintaining health, arranging for care, and administrative processes, he said. He cited several examples.

  • The use of supply chain management techniques to improve the way that blood banks collect blood from donors and deliver units to hospitals.
  • An increasing number of hospitals adopting capacity planning techniques used in assembly lines.
  • The use of scheduling systems used by service providers like Sears to reduce the delay in physician and clinic waiting rooms.
  • The application of techniques for situating warehouses to improve the way that ambulances are located in anticipation of emergency calls.

Prof. Pierskalla said that operations research offers potential for improvement not only at the healthcare administrative level but also at the clinical level with decision support systems for diagnosis, therapy, prevention, disease management, and progressive care.

The improvements ahead, cautioned Prof. Pierskalla, must be accompanied by research that leads to better data mining; more powerful algorithms; better decision analysis tools; better outcome measures; and integrated models of patient-centered supply and delivery chains in the home, outpatient center, hospital, and long-term care facility.

Barry List | EurekAlert!
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