Wikipedia defines “industrial engineering” as a branch of engineering that deals with the optimization of complex processes or systems. It goes on to link industrial engineering to “operations” and use of quantitative methods to “specify, predict, and evaluate” results. Any hospitalist that’s been tapped to reduce length of stay, help manage readmissions, implement an electronic health record, or increase the quality of care likely can relate to that definition. It seems to me that hospitalists often are the de facto industrial engineers in many of our hospitals.
The hospitalist as an industrial engineer makes perfect sense. What other group of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants provide services in virtually any clinical venue, from ED to DC, from (occasionally) PACU to ICU, the wards, and even post-discharge? Hospitalists see it all, from the first few hours of life (pediatrics) to life’s last stages (palliative care) and all stages in between. As a parody to “there’s an app for that,” Dr. Mindy Kantsiper, a hospitalist in Columbia, Md., says if there’s something that needs to be fixed, “there’s a hospitalist for that.” We are the Swiss Army knives of the medical world.
Looking through the HMX “Practice Management” discussions on the SHM website (www.hospitalmedicine.com/xchange) confirms my belief. Topics are as varied as using RNs in hospitalist practices, medication reconciliation, billing, outpatient orders (!!) after discharge, and patient-centered care/patient satisfaction. And that was just the last two weeks!
Type “hospitalist” into PubMed, and the words that auto-populate are: model, care, quality, discharge, communication, program, and handoff—all words I think of as system-related issues. Oh, sure, there are clinical-related topics, too, of course, just like for the “organ-based” specialties. However, none of the common organ-based specialties had any words auto-populate in PubMed that could be deemed related to “industrial engineering.”
Like all engineers, we de facto industrial engineers need tools and skills to be effective at in our new engineering role. While we may not need slide rules and calculus like a more traditional engineer, many of the new skills we will need as industrial engineers were not taught in medical school, and the tools were not readily available for us to use in our training.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of options for us budding, de facto industrial engineers. Here are the ones I believe you will need and where to get them:
Skill No. 1: Negotiation.
HM is a team sport, and teams bring interpersonal dynamics and tension and conflict. Effective negotiation skills can help hospitalists use conflict to spur team growth and development rather than team dysfunction.
Tools: SHM’s Leadership Academies have effective negotiation modules in each of the leveled courses. If you can’t spare the time, then books to read include “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Ury, or “Renegotiating Health Care” by Leonard Marcus (he lectures at SHM’s leadership academies).
Skill No. 2: Data analytics.
All engineers, including industrial engineers, need to be able to evaluate. Whether it’s quality and safety, clinical operations, or financial improvement, if you don’t measure it, you can’t change it. Some of the data will be handed to you, and you need to know the strengths and weaknesses to best interpret it. Some data you will need to define and develop measurement systems for on your own, and even basic dashboard development requires understanding data.