How Engineering Students Work With Jefferson Health to Improve Processes

Gaining real-world skills, they’re developing models that can provide advancements to the hospital system.

At Jefferson, engineering students engage in real-world problem-solving at the undergraduate level. Partnering with Jefferson Health’s performance excellence team, industrial and systems engineering students work in teams to tackle existing issues within the hospital system and create solutions that deliver tangible results.

“We call this the Nexus Learning model because our students are working with real teams and creating real change,” explains Dr. Fernando Tovia, a professor of engineering who oversees these projects. “Our students operate like an outside professional consulting firm to Jefferson Health, meeting with them throughout the research and development process. In the end, they get to hand off their work for implementation and see the real-world results of their project.”

Here are just a few of the projects leading advancements at Jefferson Health.

Supply Chain Improvements for Major Operating Rooms
In 2019, Jefferson Health’s supply chain team began analyzing its inventory practices to reduce wasted supplies, a problem that costs U.S. hospitals billions annually. After analyzing one year of inventory usage, Dr. Tovia’s students set out to determine optimal inventory policies while maintaining a 99% “fill rate”—the percentage of time that stock is available when it’s required.

Engineering students working with Dr. Tovia
Students Koffi Adjaglo and Rebecca Brint are working on a tool to predict nursing and scheduling needs for Jefferson’s Hospital at Home program. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

The students developed a simulation model to evaluate the performance of their proposed inventory policies and calculate the fill rate. Using this model, they calculated a fill rate of almost 99.5%, determining the appropriate amount of inventory an operating room needs and effectively minimizing costs and waste. The students then made recommendations to the supply chain team for new inventory policies that, when implemented alongside the appropriate software, would produce massive cost savings to hospital operating budgets.

Operational Excellence in an Overwhelmed Emergency Department
Across the country during the summer of 2020, patients overwhelmed emergency departments and wait times stretched longer than ever due to the pandemic. Jefferson Health’s operational excellence team enlisted the help of Dr. Tovia’s engineering students to reduce patients’ length of stay and evaluate the need for additional beds and staff members in the Jefferson Washington Township Hospital emergency department.

Using one year of data on patient flow, hospital codes and the severity of patient health issues, the students developed a model to predict the necessary resources and staff to accommodate different scenarios. This model mimicked the arrival of patients and determined waiting times, length of stays and usage of beds to find the varying levels of need for specialists, nurses and beds.

Our students are working with real teams and creating real change.
–Dr. Fernando Tovia

“Our simulation model allowed us to analyze changes to patient routing and nurse scheduling and determine efficient solutions,” says Peter Plianthos, a 2020 engineering graduate who worked on the project. “A key finding, among others, was that by adding three nurses to the night shift, the emergency department could significantly reduce the average length of stay for all patients.”

Based on a number of factors, such as a patient’s type of insurance or need for special accommodation, the model also helped hospital staff analyze each patient’s length of stay and identify solutions to reduce it.

Resource Management and Planning for Hospital at Home
One of Jefferson Health’s newest and most innovative projects is Hospital at Home (HAH), a program that treats patients at home who require the care or supervision of a nurse but don’t need to be treated in a hospital. Jefferson’s operational excellence team wanted to assess resource and staffing needs for this new program and replicate the model students engineered for the Jefferson Washington Township Hospital emergency department.

“Jefferson is one of several hospital systems developing a program like this, but it’s still very new,” Dr. Tovia says. “They launched the pilot program this year and, because of this, there’s no historical data for the students to work with.”

Engineering students working with Dr. Tovia
“Our students operate like an outside professional consulting firm to Jefferson Health, meeting with them throughout the research and development process,” says Engineering Professor Dr. Fernando Tovia (center). Here, he works with engineering students Koffi Adjaglo (left) and Rebecca Brint (right).

Using expected data from the HAH pilot study, Dr. Tovia’s students began working on a tool that could predict nursing and scheduling needs based on what-if scenarios. The students are also evaluating the flow of patients to the HAH program from the hospital and assessing the number of hospital patients who qualify for the program. They’re currently building this simulation model and completed their first test in December 2022.

Working on this project has given engineering student Koffi Adjaglo some valuable experience to prepare for a career after graduation, he says. “I’ve gotten a glimpse into how cross-functional collaboration works in the real world and how important communication is to reaching project checkpoints efficiently.”

Also reflecting on her work in the program, engineering student Rebecca Brint adds, “Building a simulation allowed me to hone my computer programming skills and master multitasking with different programming tools and numerous spreadsheets of data. More than that, I’m proud of our work with the HAH program. Before starting this project, I didn’t realize an opportunity like HAH was possible, but now, I’m an advocate for the program for all eligible patients who need it.”

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Health, Science and Technology