Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Editor's Desk

Enough, but not too much

Scheduling and planning are two IE specialties. As more industrial engineers work in healthcare, medical centers increasingly rely on these people to keep the workplace adequately staffed.

Solving scheduling problems can be as simple as ensuring a healthcare worker gets requested vacation time. More complex issues arise when trying to develop models to keep enough nurses and staff on hand to attend to patients’ needs around-the-clock, while making sure overstaffing doesn’t leave doctors and nurses standing around killing time.

IEs are well-aware of those needs, especially as the healthcare industry restructures to trim costs without skimping on patient care. In this month’s cover story on Page 28, Timothy C. Stansfield, Ronda Massey and Joshua Manuel detail a staffing model for nurses developed for a Midwestern U.S. hospital.

With labor being the predominant cost in hospitals, the trio’s research shows healthcare schedulers how to reduce overstaffing to adequate staffing. This helps the bottom line without endangering the critical component of delivering care to the consumers. The 10 strategies included in the work form a solid basis for IEs who want to “lean” their staffing models enough, but not too much.

Registered nurse and Ph.D. Jeanne Geiger-Brown has different worries about scheduling. Her research shows that 12-hour shifts aren’t a best practice for nurses. But the popularity of such shifts will prevent their elimination for a while. In an interview on Page 12, the University of Maryland School of Nursing associate professor offers advice to reduce the extended stressors fostered by long shifts.

Of course, IEs do more in healthcare than keep doctors and patients scheduled and safe. IEs improve patient flow, prevent preventable harm, integrate technology, and make sure doctors and nurses have the tools they need when they need them.

A good place to learn all that is the Society for Health Systems Conference and Expo 2011. Scheduled for Feb. 17-19 at the Peabody Orlando hotel in Orlando, Fla., it is the place this year for healthcare executives, managers, clinical staff and others to gather for networking and improving healthcare delivery.

We hope to see you there.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.