Streamlining wellness

Quebec’s hospitals fill managerial roles with doctors and nurses —and Vedat Verter says it’s just not the best strategy. “These individuals are highly trained, excellent clinicians and very smart—but we won’t turn around our health care system by assuming that they’ll intuitively find the right ways to manage,” says Verter, a professor of operations management in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill. “Other sectors don’t do this; aerospace doesn’t only hire engineers, they hire managers to work with those engineers.”

As the director of the CREATE Healthcare Operations and Information Management (HOIM) program, Verter wants to free up healthcare providers to do what they do best—that is, providing frontline care—by training a new kind of specialized health care manager.

By focusing on four areas— electronics and telecommunications, information systems and software architecture, operations research, and process design and improvement—HOIM aims to create managers who have the tools to tackle problems such as emergency room waiting times and accessibility to family physicians, or improve the use of state-of-the-art information and telecommunication technologies in the health sector.

Faster admission, faster healing

“Hospitals are data rich, but information poor,” says Wojtek Michalowski, HOIM faculty member and professor of health informatics and decision support at the University of Ottawa. “They produce a lot of data but are very bad at extracting information out of this data. HOIM is  training people who understand what they should know. We want to make people aware of what they don’t know, so they’ll use the data to get that information.”

Although the program is only three years old, HOIM PhD students and Post-doctoral Fellows are already getting results. An example is the ongoing work of HOIM trainees at the Montreal Neurological Hospital. A few years ago, Beste Kucukyazici’s PhD dissertation was put into action to improve the hospital managers’ understanding of how delaying a patient’s admission to the stroke unit affects their health status when it comes time to discharge them. Now Saied Samiedaluie, a senior PhD student, is following up on that work by studying the patient admission policies at the hospital. As for Kucukyazici, who came to study at McGill from Turkey, she just finished several post-doctoral years in Spain and the U.S., and is once again putting her expertise to work in Quebec: In the fall of 2012, she became an assistant professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management.

There are still obstacles to overcome. Nurses and physicians may be rightly skeptical of outsiders arriving with fancy new ideas about how things should work. That’s why, says Verter, it’s essential to engage collaborators on the health care front lines in all stages of this research; the program includes a network of about 50 health care providers and decision makers. “If they’re part of the work, and they’re impressed with a trainee’s research findings, it increases the likelihood that the proposed interventions will actually be implemented. Ultimately, everyone has the same goal: better care.”