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The Society for Engineering & Management Systems highlights entering and improving health systems (Mar/Apr 2010)

Transitioning into the healthcare industry

Healthcare is a dynamic, challenging and growing field that provides essential services to people. As a healthcare industrial engineer and the director of operations improvement for The Methodist Hospital in Houston, I am frequently asked how an IE can transition into a healthcare position. My first response is always, “Why do you want to?” Having a stable job in a growth industry is a reasonable personal goal; it is not a reason for anyone to want you on their team. What do you find compelling about the field? What motivates you to give 125 percent every day? What would you do to overcome the inevitable challenges of working with diverse individuals who frequently are not familiar with the skills that you bring? Answering those questions well increases the probability that someone will take a chance that you are a perfect fit for healthcare.

The logistics of transitioning are the same as breaking into any new field.

First, research the field. Understand the environment, the major constituents, the revenue cycle, the competition, the challenges and threats and the regulations. Network with colleagues, old classmates and friends. Reach out to industry insiders on social media, such as LinkedIn. Join some healthcare associations/societies and read their publications to understand the current issues and network with people already in the field. IIE has many resources and individuals related to healthcare within SEMS and within the Society for Health Systems (SHS). No one will expect you to be an expert, but the more knowledgeable you are, the more you demonstrate that being in healthcare is not just a paycheck to you.

Second, develop your value proposition: What can you offer to meet the needs of leadership, particularly clinicians? Healthcare revenue is generated by physicians and other clinical providers, so their efficiency and effectiveness is primary.

Last, start a standard job search – search online job boards, use recruiters, call/e-mail potential hiring managers, etc. Target specific organizations and search their online job postings using key words: analyst, management engineer, project engineer, project manager, business specialist, project specialist, operations improvement, performance improvement, performance excellence, process improvement consultant, lean consultant, Six Sigma, etc. The terms will be as varied as the number of hospitals, so look for unconventional first steps. There are opportunities in supply chain, revenue cycle, research, facilities management and construction, as well as the usual management engineering and process improvement departments.

Be persistent. The need for IE skills in healthcare is tremendous. Good luck.

Michele Dekelbaum is a healthcare industrial engineer and the director of operations improvement for The Methodist Hospital in Houston. She also is a director of the SEMS board.

Can healthcare be lean?

The unseemly state of the U.S. healthcare system has been receiving a lot of attention. And no wonder: Healthcare costs are among the most expensive in the developed world; costs are rising at rates that outstrip inflation; medical errors occur at alarming levels; the quality of care for many segments of society is substandard; many areas are facing labor shortages (notably in nursing); and the aging baby boomer population is poised to swamp an already overtaxed system. A multipart solution likely will be needed, and management engineering can be part of the solution. In particular, applying lean manufacturing tools and concepts can have a significant effect on cost, quality and timeliness of healthcare.

A recent review of the healthcare management literature identified more than 50 articles describing applications of lean tools and concepts in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Overwhelmingly, authors report success in improving delivery systems, both at the department level and hospitalwide.

A closer look at the literature, however, reveals two interesting observations. First, most of the articles focus on a small subset of the lean toolkit, namely value stream mapping, 5S, kaizen events and process mapping of work flows. These tools seem to have the most traction in healthcare. Evidence of the successful application of many of the other tools such as leveling, takt time, kanban, error-proofing, visual management and standardized work exist, but it seems few organizations (at least as reported in the literature) have attempted applying the broader toolkit. The reasons for this are not yet clear, but it may be because the tools and concepts require significant adaptation for healthcare environments and that widespread education on lean systems is not yet in place.

Second, authors overwhelmingly indicate the importance of widespread involvement for lean implementation to be successful. Front-line staff must be engaged in meaningful ways at all stages of the problem-solving process. Interfacing departments must be aligned with the changes taking place. Local management must understand lean tools and concepts and support the front-line staff in their change efforts. And senior leadership must encourage continuous improvement and set a vision and priorities for the future of the organization. Good and frequent communication and effective, in-depth training also were cited frequently as important factors. This suggests that the role of the lean expert must be as a trainer and coach rather than someone hired to solve problems for the organization.

So can healthcare be lean? The evidence is strong that lean tools certainly can help streamline organizations and processes, rooting out waste and increasing quality and patient safety. But it will take a concerted and collaborative effort to pull it off.

Durward K. Sobek II of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Montana State University will present the featured Engineering Management track session June 6 at the Industrial Engineering Research Conference in Cancún, Mexico (“Lean Healthcare: Current State and Future Directions"). 

Research and Applied Solutions conferences

The Society for Engineering and Management Systems (SEMS) is sponsoring tracks at the IIE Annual Conference and Expo 2010. The Industrial Engineering Research Conference (IERC) and Applied Solutions Conference will once again provide many learning and networking opportunities for SEMS members and anyone interested in engineering management topics. Those from both industry and academia will come away with much value in terms of new knowledge, findings from current research, and case studies and applications of IE methods and tools.

The 2010 IERC Engineering Management track co-chairs, Jennifer Farris from Texas Tech University and Geert Letens from the Royal Military Academy in Brussels, Belgium, and the 2010 Applied Solutions Engineering Management and Industry track chair, Ryan Underdown from Lamar University, have been working with the SEMS board of directors and with many contributors over the past six months to bring our members a high-quality and expanded conference program.

With this year’s annual conference located in Cancun, Mexico, SEMS and IIE’s Industry Advisory Board (IAB) are sponsoring an effort to make our conference truly international. Russell Wooten (past president of SEMS and past chair of the IAB) is coordinating the translation of presentation content in SEMS-sponsored tracks into Spanish. The goal is to have as many translated as possible.

IERC Engineering Management track

The IERC Engineering Management track has continued to increase in size and breadth over the past several years. More than 80 different presentations on engineering management research are planned across 27 sessions, with a majority having full papers submitted for inclusion in the conference proceedings. Almost one-third are from international presenters. The sessions include both invited and contributed presentations on the following topics:

  • Decision making
  • Engineering management in healthcare
  • Engineering management for lean manufacturing
  • Improving process improvement
  • Leadership, culture and ethics
  • Lean Six Sigma
  • Organization development and change
  • Performance measurement and management
  • Product development
  • Project and program management
  • Small and medium enterprises
  • Strategy
  • Teams

This year, the track also includes a special featured session titled "Lean Healthcare: Current State and Future Directions," presented by Durward Sobek of Montana State University. Sobek has presented on this and other topics around the world and is widely recognized for his expertise in lean healthcare. Sobek will present results from examining the literature and current practice in applying lean principles to healthcare organizations and will provide insight into future directions for the lean healthcare movement. This featured session is being co-sponsored by the Health and Service Systems and Lean Systems tracks. 

Applied Solutions Engineering Management and Industry track

The Engineering Management and Industry track at the Applied Solutions Conference has presentations scheduled across all three days of the conference with a wide variety of engineering management topics planned:

  • Applying CMMI to improve new technology venture processes
  • How to set up a high-impact continuous improvement system
  • Telecommuting team members and their effects on the team
  • Optimal maintenance strategies for dependent component systems
  • Organizational assessment in small and medium enterprises
  • Using technology in engineering training
  • Management strategies and balanced scorecard technique -- measures that drive performance excellence

Attendees at this track also will have the opportunity to attend presentations targeted toward those making the transition from industrial engineering to management. This track also includes the SEMS Town Hall meeting.

SEMS Town Hall meeting

The SEMS Town Hall meeting is an interactive forum held during the Annual Conference for the benefit of current and potential SEMS members. SEMS President Ryan Underdown will update members on the state of the society and plans for the future. Attendees will have the chance to meet and ask questions of the current SEMS board of directors, network with other members and provide suggestions for future activities.

In particular, attendees will have the chance to give input and become involved with several key initiatives, such as the SEMS Web site, webinar series, international presence and membership. If you are interested in learning more about SEMS or becoming more involved with the society, don’t miss this opportunity.

Visit the IIE Annual Conference website at www.iienet.org/annual for the latest information.


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