A new UBC Sauder research centre is looking for the cure to health care inefficiencies. Harnessing mathematical models, they’re crunching data generated by hospitals, labs, research centres and more to give practitioners in the field a whole new way of looking at their operations.
“The Centre for Operations Research and Analytics in Health (CORAH) aims to orchestrate and sustain UBC Sauder’s considerable research and data-driven analytical approaches to improve health care processes," says Associate Professor Steven Shechter, Director of CORAH.
The centre is pulling together UBC Sauder experts from operations research, management science and analytics to work closely with health care clinicians and administrators to discover evidence-based solutions to the complex planning, operational and medical problems they face.
And, considering the huge costs and high stakes, nowhere are the potential benefits more valuable to society than in health care.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, health care in Canada costs over $200 billion annually. In the US, the figure is approaching $3 trillion, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Making an impact
One considerable advance already achieved by one of CORAH’s researchers is a Chemo SmartBook, a chemotherapy scheduling tool developed by Professor Martin Puterman.
Employing mathematical optimization techniques similar to those driving the schedules of airlines, the SmartBook's system automatically assigns patients to nurses, balances workloads, alerts pharmacists of daily schedules and meets patient appointment preferences.
Launched by the BC Cancer Agency at its Vancouver Centre, the tool has drastically reduced the number of waitlisted patients.
CORAH’s work also informs the debate at a policy level. A breakthrough research paper by Shechter, UBC Sauder PhD student Reza Skandari and clinical collaborator Dr. Nadia Zalunardo is providing new insight into the timing of care for patients suffering from chronic kidney disease.
“Our collaboration allowed us to tackle the question of when to refer a patient in an innovative way,” says Dr. Zalunardo, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Vancouver General Hospital. “The finding that referral policies should not be applied on a ‘one size fits all’ basis is quite novel and important. This will help to reduce the chance of needless surgical procedures in older patients in particular."
CORAH also maintains close ties with UBC Sauder’s Centre for Operations Excellence (COE) – an internationally recognized operations research centre. Many of CORAH’s research activities, including the kidney disease care study, start as COE industry projects.
“Training is an important part of CORAH’s mission,” says Shechter. “By engaging graduate students and post-docs in research on analytical solutions to complex health care problems, UBC Sauder is contributing to and leading the debate on how to improve health care."