Our expert answers 3 Questions
I'm thinking about how engineers and clinicians can work together to dramatically impact the improvement of healthcare delivery. Healthcare delivery is an incredibly complex system, with tightly constrained resources, lots of uncertainty, many competing objectives, and extensive inter-dependencies throughout all aspects of the system. As such, engineers are well-suited to contribute, bringing to the table a valuable set of skills and a very different approach to problem solving. But significant barriers to success exist as well. Many of these barriers are knowledge-based: engineers need to know more about medicine and clinicians need to know more about engineering. Dramatic differences in communication styles and cultural norms can impede this knowledge transfer, and can impede collaboration in general. As a result, many opportunities for real impact go unrealized.
My methodological background is in applied combinatorial optimization. I’m interested in scheduling problems, sequencing problems, logistics problems. The underlying structures of these problems are found throughout healthcare, so there are plenty of great engineering challenges. In addition, to be successful, I have to really invest in developing a deep knowledge within a new application domain - an application domain that fascinates me on a personal as well as an intellectual level. As a parent, the work I’m doing in pediatric emergency medicine is particularly satisfying.
Limitless! Since becoming the associate director of U-M’s Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety, I’ve been amazed to learn how many of my engineering colleagues are working on healthcare applications, or want to find a way to become involved in this field. Perhaps the only thing more inspiring is the numbers of clinicians I’ve met who eagerly want to engage with engineering. Both sides are willing to learn, willing to put the time in to overcome the barriers, and I think we are at a moment of great opportunity for fostering these collaborations.