health care

URI engineers help design patient care system

Posted 1/7/13

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A team of engineers at the University of Rhode Island has helped the has helped the VA Medical Center in Providence has helped redesign the hospital’s system of patient care, utilizing the concept of lean manufacturing.

Under the leadership of Valerie Maier-Speredelozzi, associate professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the effort sought to deliver “lean” practices at the Providence facility, which serves more than 32,000 patients annually.

“The principles of lean that were developed by Toyota were targeted at eliminating waste,” Maier-Speredelozzi said. “These same principles can be applied to health care and many other industries. There’s a great deal of waste that can be eliminated to improve the system and save money.”

One example of reducing waste was at a supply closet on the sixth floor, where the Maier-Speredelozzi and her students eliminated wasted time by grouping supplies by medical incident and color-coding their labels. They implemented better inventory control of perishable items like saline by studying past usage and setting appropriate levels that trigger restocking. They eliminated wasted personnel energy by implementing easier-to-stock shelving with pullout shelves and wheels.

The supply closet redesign left such a major impact that nurses presented it at a regional nursing conference, according to Maier-Speredelozzi.

Beyond the supply closet, plans are underway to look at how to apply lean techniques to the hospital’s pharmacy and operating rooms.

“The field of health care certainly has room for improvement so there’s a lot more to do,” Maier-Speredelozzi said. “We have many more research ideas that we have yet to address.”

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