Healthcare requires a structured approach to solving challenging problems that engineers naturally bring to the table. As an engineer data is integral to decision making. This data can indicate whether things are improving, getting worse, or staying the same.
Manufactured products distance the engineer from the final customer. Once the product is made, the product is received by the customer, but the engineer rarely understands how the product affects the customers’ lives. An engineer that designs or manufactures a product typically does not interact directly with the final customer, therefore has no direct feedback whether the product satisfies the customer’s needs.
As an engineer working in healthcare there is an opportunity to affect people’s lives in a very poignant way-as they are encountering the healthcare system. Healthcare affects people’s lives directly, at a time when people are at their most vulnerable, ill, in a health crisis or trauma. An engineer, working in healthcare has the ability to aid in changing and improving current processes. This can create demand for an engineer in the healthcare field.Why are engineers in the healthcare field?
Those in healthcare who work directly with patients such as: physicians, practitioners, and nurses think analytically regarding patient care. In the past looking at the bigger picture was something reserves for the “C” suite. Today, the ability to analyze the bigger picture, streamline standard processes to increase productivity, decrease costs, and create functional working spaces is what engineers bring to the team, and why they are needed in healthcare.
Having engineers as part of the healthcare team significantly improves the team’s ability to provide quality patient care. The gap between the direct patient care giving team and the need for streamlined processes to improve patient outcomes can be bridged by engineers.What areas within healthcare would employ engineers?
Patient outcomes define quality in healthcare, not engineers. Healthcare metrics are publicly visible in the workplace as well available on public websites. Engineers can increase standardization across a healthcare system that leads to better processes that improve patient outcomes.Finance
The healthcare industry has recognized that the quality of care provided directly affects the cost of service delivery. Healthcare has the most complicated finance structure, mainly due to insurance companies that base their reimbursement amount to facilities on the quality of patient care received. There is significant pressure for healthcare systems to drive excessive costs out of the system by becoming more effective and efficient. By suggesting ways to streamline processes, engineers can decrease the cost for both the patient and the facilities providing care.Safety / Compliance
The consistency and compliance of patient care delivery is rigorously controlled through use of standard work. When a negative patient event occurs, or trends in adverse patient events are observed, engineers are part of the team that utilizes to analyze the data, determines the root cause, and aids in finding a solution.Logistics
The flow of material, information, and people is more complex in healthcare than other industries. Logistically speaking, there are seven types of flows – patient, family, provider, supplies, medicine, equipment, and information. Engineers are able to help eliminate duplication of work and adverse patient outcomes by identifying more efficient pathways for physical flows and the supporting information flow.Facilities
The design and maintenance of the physical infrastructure of a healthcare system requires the understanding of not only physical systems in a facility but the operations that must be supported by the physical layouts. Engineers identify how to make work areas function given the needs and resources of any given space. They identify individuals within the healthcare team that use the space, their needs, and how to design the space to allow the team members to be most efficient in their work. This requires the collaboration of many others on the healthcare team but engineers can play an integral role.Demand management
A major challenge within healthcare is the ability to flex resources to the demand caused by the unpredictable nature of patient needs, e.g., natural disaster, epidemics, increase in patient acuity due to an aging population, etc. In an attempt to solve this system wide challenge, engineers will continue to be a crucial contributor to the healthcare field.
While the focus of healthcare needs to be on the patient and patient outcomes, healthcare must find new ways to meet these changing demands through the use of multi-disciplinary teams to solve problems. The addition of an engineer in healthcare is an example of how thinking about healthcare challenges and their solutions have evolved.