Corum helping VA hospitals improve efficiency
Christine Corum’s work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could have far-reaching effects on the nation’s healthcare delivery system.
Corum, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, has been working since last summer with one of the agency’s four Veterans Engineering Resource Centers (VERC) to help improve access to medical care for veterans.
“I love process improvement,” Corum said. “Lots of people work in broken systems. It is rewarding to show them how to use basic engineering principles, to problem solve, to change the system so it works better and meets their needs and the patients’ needs.”
Corum works with Patient Alignment Care Teams (PACT), leading them through educational sessions, helping them map their processes, and working to identify effective success measurements. There are approximately 150 PACTs across the country; Corum works with groups from the Midwest and Gulf States.
Opening up access to medical care includes three things: timely appointments, care coordination and management, and optimization of space, rooms, and equipment.
“As medical professionals, they use individual processes with their patients’ care every day,” Corum said. “But they haven’t looked at the entire process like they look at their patients. We are helping them do that. We try to empower the staff so that they do the work themselves. They plan it, they implement it and they sustain it.”
As the PACTs identify and implement changes, Corum helps track and measure results as part of a nationwide database. The information stored there will help identify successes for other PACTs to try.
Some early successes include lowered waiting times for appointments, new ways to contact care providers, and relocated offices for space optimization.
“Especially with the talk about healthcare and wastes, if they can make it work well, I hope these successes can be transferred to other institutions and help with medical cost issues,” Corum said.
The experience she has gained over the last nine months has helped her redesign an assignment in a current class she teaches. Students have been tasked with identifying and improving the processes related to a fast-food restaurant. Corum realized that the textbook information, while accurate, wasn’t giving her students a full experience.
So, just as she has done with the PACTs, she asked her students to immerse themselves in the process. First, they discussed possible systems, and then they observed local restaurants in action to gather real data for measurement and possible improvements.
“Measurement is so important, and it’s not always obvious and easy,” Corum said. “It’s a whole different experience getting information yourself and learning more about it. This exercise provided real examples of barriers our students will face.”