When Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center wanted to increase efficiency and lower its operating costs, the Corvallis hospital tried a novel approach.
It hired an industrial engineer.
“Everything’s a process — if you are trained to see the process in it,” said Brenda Buckman, a 2009 graduate of Oregon State University’s industrial engineering program, who has a minor in business.
“When you’re in manufacturing, you can see a process happening,” Buckman added. “But in health care, you have to pick it apart.”
That’s Buckman’s job at Good Sam — to examine how doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel do their jobs and find ways to do them faster, easier, better.
Her first project for the hospital — begun during a summer internship before she became a full-fledged Samaritan employee in January — was to create a recycling system for operating room supplies.
Since then, she has completed several others, including consolidating policy and procedure information onto a single site on the hospital’s internal computer network and streamlining the preauthorization process for home health visits.
At the moment, she’s working with the materials management staff to find more efficient ways to stock medical supplies throughout the hospital.
“That’s very manufacturing-based, using techniques from Toyota’s manufacturing systems,” Buckman said. “If everything’s in the right place, it would save a lot of time.”
Though trained to work with industrial processes, Buckman decided she wanted to apply her skills in a health care setting after working in a bolt factory. While she got a certain satisfaction out of helping the company crank out bolts faster, that just wasn’t enough.
“Being able to work in health care, I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Her boss agrees. Scott Wilson, vice president for ancillary services at Good Sam, said Buckman already is paying dividends for the hospital.
“An industrial engineer brings a real discipline to the process of trying to streamline systems,” Wilson said. “It’s fairly new to health care.”
But perhaps not for much longer. Wilson said a handful of hospitals have tried a similar approach, including some in Portland, and he expects others to follow suit.
“It’s proven that efficiency brings safety (and) quality, it improves employee satisfaction and, by doing that, improves patient satisfaction,” he said.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we have to do — improve patient satisfaction.”
Of course, there’s a danger for an efficiency expert in being too efficient. If Buckman solves all of the hospital’s process problems, someday there may be nothing left for her to do.
“Ideally,” she said, “I would work myself out of a job.”
Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.