At Mayo Clinic, applying engineering principles to health care is not a new concept.
More than a century ago, a young and ambitious Dr. Henry S. Plummer, one of Mayo's first physicians, recognized that specially designed facilities and systems — such as a single medical record for each clinic patient — were needed if Mayo was to deliver patient-centered health care.
Since then, physicians and administrators have worked to eliminate inefficiencies and optimize Mayo's processes. This work is now growing in scope because of the Health Care Delivery Engineering Program, part of the new Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.
Imagine that a city wants to build a new highway. Even with the best contractors building it, the road will function properly only if it has first been efficiently engineered. Transportation engineers must study traffic flow and patterns, areas of potential congestion, locations and styles of on-ramps and off-ramps, and much more.
Health care engineering is very similar. For example, a patient may come to Mayo Clinic from overseas, and in the course of a two- or three-day visit need to see several physicians and have a number of tests conducted.
How can Mayo most efficiently and effectively move this patient through his or her appointments and tests — keeping in mind that the order in which they must occur is often important — while allowing plenty of time to be spent with each physician?
Systems are already in place at Mayo to do this, but more sophisticated health care delivery engineering approaches can offer further improvements.
Mark Hayward, administrator of the Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, says that one area of interest is genetic algorithms, which use processes found in nature — such as natural selection, mutation and evolution — to analyze and solve problems.
Just as different animal species undergo natural changes to strengthen, improve and better sustain themselves, Mayo could use similar processes to improve patient and data flow.
Mayo Clinic is uniquely positioned to excel in health care delivery research, as Mayo health care engineers are able to create and test innovative processes in the most realistic of health care environments, while Mayo physicians can offer feedback and suggestions in real time.
Read more about the science of health care delivery at Mayo Clinic.
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