NEW FRONTIERS IN HEALTH-CARE INNOVATION by TYLER IRVING & MARIT MITCHELL
Interdisciplinary research from U of T Engineering is helping us live longer, healthier lives.
Optimizing surgical schedules Long wait lists for elective surgeries are a major challenge in the Canadian health care system. According to Professor Dionne Aleman (MIE), pictured below, right, the problem may not necessarily be a lack of resources, but rather a result of not using the resources we have as efficiently as we could. “Hospitals have rules that indicate who gets operated on when, but the schedules that result are sub-optimal,” she said. Aleman and her team are addressing this problem by building mathematical models that can optimize the matches between patients, surgeons and operating rooms to generate the most efficient schedule. One technique the team uses involves pooling resources. Rather than each hospital maintaining its own waiting list, patients would be treated as a single large waiting list. Patients would be assigned to a given surgeon or operating room to minimize the time when resources are unused. Using mathematical optimization tools, the team has generated schedules that 18
could increase the number of patients treated in a given time period by up to 30 per cent. Aleman collaborates closely with Dr. David Urbach, a surgeon and senior scientist at the Toronto General Research Institute. Her models are based on data from Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “Right now we’re adding workload balancing into our models,” Aleman said. “We want to ensure that all surgeons and hospitals are being used to an equitable level.” Some hospitals are already using patient pooling on a small scale, and Aleman hopes that her models will help the technique be applied more broadly. “I like research that has a positive impact on the world,” she said. “In health care it’s very obvious to see how any improvements can have a wide-ranging impact, so it’s a very fulfilling type of work to do.”
“WE WANT TO ENSURE THAT ALL SURGEONS AND HOSPITALS ARE BEING USED TO AN EQUITABLE LEVEL.”