Ultimately, I hope that my contributions in this field can lead to better hospital operational performances, and in turn, better health outcomes for patients.

Alia Stanciu

Many of us know the travel industry is often fraught with delays, cancellations and other scheduling nightmares, but Professor Alia Stanciu, management, says the scheduling techniques used by airlines, hotels and cruise lines can actually help other organizations – such as hospitals – create operational efficiencies.

Travel industry services depend on fixed and perishable resources, says Stanciu. "An airline seat can generate revenue only if someone books the seat prior to the airplane's departure," she says. "An empty seat contributes nothing to the airline's bottom line." Over the last 30 years, revenue management systems have helped the travel industry better manage seats on a plane or rooms in a hotel via effective booking systems, but this is not the case with hospitals.

"Why can airlines still make a profit with scheduling but hospitals cannot?" she asks. A hospital bed or an operating room must be available for the right patient at the right time and place, but there are a number of complicating factors. For example, about 30 to 40 percent of patients fail to show up for their appointments. If procedures take longer than expected, then doctors and nurses go into overtime, which is expensive and could also lead to mistakes. Moreover, hospitals rarely have substantial plans in place to deal with emergency surgeries or other unplanned interruptions that delay other scheduled procedures.

To create efficiencies, Stanciu focuses on devising scheduling algorithms in these service-oriented settings, characterized by random service duration and variable demand, to better manage the operating room capacity allocation among various procedures and patients. She says, though, that finding a solution for effectively scheduling patients for elective surgeries is not an easy task. "Deciding the length of surgery slots should not be based only on the historical average duration of that particular surgery," she says. "Other factors, such as the historical variability of that surgery type, as well as patient characteristics, may influence how long a patient occupies an operating room." From this perspective, she is looking to design and analyze novel and reliable scheduling approaches that healthcare facilities can easily implement and update.

Stanciu says her goal is to provide useful insights and better solutions to these challenging scheduling problems in the healthcare field. "Ultimately, I hope that my contributions in this field can lead to better hospital operational performances, and in turn, better health outcomes for patients," she says. 

Posted October 10, 2013