How to boost efficiency at a reasonable cost? It's an issue that bedevils hospital executives. They might not think to ask a teenager, but in North Carolina, one 19-year-old may have cracked the code for cost-efficient cancer treatment at a local hospital.
Nishant Singh, a sophomore at North Carolina State University, observed the treatment process at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill to determine the most cost-effective way for the hospital to increase its treatment capacity.
The cancer center was running at 99% of capacity, leaving little room for expanding access or dealing with a surge in demand, said Singh, an industrial and systems engineering student. Singh wanted to understand which part of the treatment process needed more resources: clerical functions, physician interactions, CT scanning or radiation therapy?
Through a series of virtual simulations, Singh ultimately determined that the bottleneck was in radiation therapy, and that adding a fourth machine could allow the hospital to operate at 85% of capacity, which is considered optimal.
“We actually went through and mapped out each step-by-step process that the patient has to go through, and other processes not involving the patient,” Singh said. “I don't think a lot of hospitals have a clear step-by-step process.”
The UNC center hasn't yet implemented the solution.
Singh became interested in hospital efficiency when he attended a NCSU camp in high school. His long-term goal after college is to create a consulting firm that helps developing nations use their healthcare dollars most effectively and design new hospitals in a way that leads to cost-effective operations.