The Business School

Faculty and students in the Healthcare Delivery Institute (HDI) at the Foisie School of Business are creating software designed to improve access to healthcare for veterans.

Problems with access and other issues at hospitals operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been widely reported and an audit in 2014 confirmed that action needed to be taken. The audit found issues such as a complicated scheduling process and inconsistency in adhering to established practices.

With help from a team of students, professors Sharon Johnson, Bengisu Tulu, and Renata Konrad recently completed a prototype of software designed to improve patient access.

“Operations students understand access issues, balancing capacity with demand,” Johnson says. “It’s a big problem for operations managers, so it’s a good experience for students. It’s also giving them experience with analytics. This is analytics in action.”

With close to $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation and the Veterans Administration (VA) New England Healthcare System over the past six years, the HDI has been working on a variety of projects for the VA.

“The idea was to bring in engineering principles to improve the practices and the systems within the VA,” Johnson says. “The application of industrial engineering and systems engineering methods to operational issues is the driving force.”

The team has been developing a prototype for about a year and a half. Johnson is hopeful it can now be developed into a pilot.

“The tool is designed to enable managers at site level to understand data about their clinic in real time,” she says, “to use it to discover what might be causing any issues with access, and to predict upcoming issues.”

Rather than trying to address an issue that took place three months ago, for example, staff will be able to address an issue that may have occurred a few days ago. By actingon issues practically as they take place, staff will be able to address them more effectively, she says.