HSPI Conference arms you with knowledge to face healthcare challenges

By Jordan Peck, Ph.D.
Industrial engineer, New England Veterans Engineering Resource Center
Adjunct clinical assistant professor, Boston University School of Public Health

The infamous words, “It’s dangerous to go alone…” from The Legend of Zelda still echo in my head from my childhood playing way too much Nintendo (as compared to my adulthood playing way too much Nintendo).  Now as I study and apply the tools of performance improvement and systems engineering in hospitals, the phrase has a whole new meaning to me.

It is not uncommon to find hospitals starting lean/Six Sigma/performance improvement programs. The SHS Career Board identifies new jobs for improvement professionals across the country every day. The SHS academic and student committee has generated a list of schools that are creating a whole workforce of subject matter experts (including my alma mater Binghamton University, which regularly has attendees at the SHS conference).

But just as beating games required more than just [virtual] tools, hiring performance improvement specialists for your hospital/health system (no matter how many tools they have), is not enough to beat the evil forces of waste and variability in a health system. There are so many complex interactions in healthcare, both human and process driven. Hospitals trying to figure it all out in a bubble seem doomed to failure. Even the greatest lean health systems like ThedaCare included networking and reaching out to other health systems (and other industries) as a key part of their lean journey, now they have created the Healthcare Value Network.

Indeed, the most advanced practitioners of performance improvement know that it IS dangerous to go alone. That’s why I am a regular attendee at the SHS performance improvement conference as well as an active participant in SHS ongoing activities. The amount you can learn from the experience of others in a single weekend is staggering. Amazing keynote speakers, regular opportunities for networking, and sessions lead by thought leaders in the performance improvement industry are staples of the SHS performance improvement conference. The attendees are a perfect mix of seasoned professionals, deep thinking academics, energetic early career professionals and eager students.

So, since it is dangerous to go alone, take this… https://www.xcdsystem.com/shs/proceedings/index.html

How the HSPI Conference makes me a better industrial engineer in healthcare

By Isaac Mitchell
Lean coordinator, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

After training to be an industrial engineer, I left college ready to take on the manufacturing world. The first six years of my career in manufacturing ranged from boat building, to automotive, to machining operations. The experience and exposure was great, but I was looking for more. I was looking for a place where I could apply my talents and skills to improve people’s lives. As a member of Institute of Industrial Engineers and subscriber to IE magazine, I started reading and learning more about how an industrial engineer can positively impact the healthcare industry.

So, five years ago I made the jump to healthcare to practice and apply industrial engineering tools to enhance the patient experience, increase quality, deliver better value, and improve patient outcomes. The industrial engineer’s role in healthcare is relatively new, so one of the best ways I have found to learn is from my peers that are practicing and applying what they have learned in the real world. IIE’s Society of Health Systems Process Improvement Conference is an outstanding forum for new knowledge, networking with peers, and rallying the team to continue the great work of Industrial Engineers in healthcare. The following are key points from this year’s conference.

New Knowledge

  • Key Takeaways:  Each year I learn about new and innovative ways industrial engineers, clinicians, architects, and others fields are improving healthcare. The conference offers tracks to fit all interests such as lean, information technology, healthcare reform, and change management. With each distinct track, attendees can customize their experience to fit their needs. These are the top three things I learned and will apply over the next year.
    • Value Stream Mapping: I attended Karen Martin’s pre-conference workshop on value stream mapping. I plan to apply several techniques including incorporating the process owners in the room with decision makers to create the changes in real time.  I also learned to focus on clearly defining the current state before we look for problems and improvements in the future.
    • Management with SPC: Mark Graban gave a great talk on how we can apply Statistical Process Control, SPC, to make better informed decisions. I will use this to follow trends in the number of monthly kaizens and problems solved in departments throughout the hospital to make more informed decisions on the health of our continuous improvement program.
    • Coaching Others: Alan Gleghorn gave a great keynote on his work as CEO of the Christie Clinic. Anyone who has seen him speak before knows that he is an engaging and thought provoking speaker.  He mixes humor with serious insight. As a problem solving coach and manager in my current role, I will add a new phrase to my vocabulary from Alan’s keynote, “How can I help you win more often?” How many of us would like to hear that each and every day from our leaders, managers, and co-workers?
    • Challenge: Those three items are just my key learnings. Each attendee’s experience will be different. Over the next year, everyone should conduct PDSAS. That is not a typo: Plan, Do, Study, Act, Share. Apply what you’ve learned by putting on your white lab coat and experimenting like scientists. Let’s talk about what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change. Take this new knowledge and share it with our peers at next year’s conference.


  • Key Takeaways: I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people at this conference and learning about their background and experiences. The narrow aperture that is healthcare process improvement makes it easy to build relationships and leverage the vast knowledge of more than 300 attendees.
  • Challenge: Try to meet and network with as many people as possible. Meet a new face during every session and during each break. Also, make an effort to communicate throughout the year.  Call on your network when you run into issues or need an expert opinion.

Rally the Team

  • Key Takeaways: Hearing presenter after presenter share accomplishments on quality and safety improvements, cost reductions, improved employee morale and high patient satisfaction reminds you that this is worthwhile work. These inspirational success stories leave you charged and ready to take on the world. This is a revival, not a conference.
  • Challenge: Take this excitement and passion for healthcare back to your workplace. We should never get tired of doing what is good. Success will prevail for those that do not give up.

I look forward to applying what I learned at this year’s SHS conference, keeping up with my network over the next year, and apply my passion of improving healthcare to enhance the patient experience, increase quality, deliver better value, and improve patient outcomes. I hope to see old friends and new faces at next year’s conference. Until then, I challenge you to apply what you have learned, keep in touch, and never grow tired of applying the worthwhile work of healthcare process improvement.

Isaac Mitchell has more than 11 years of experience driving change in organizations utilizing Lean methodology and techniques. The valuable experience gained while working at Toyota North American Manufacturing Headquarters has enabled him to bring successful and time-proven methodologies to the healthcare field. As lean coordinator at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Isaac is heading up a hospital-wide lean strategic initiative focusing on improving processes, reducing unwanted variation, eliminating waste and creating a culture of staff engagement in problem solving.  Isaac holds a MBA from Xavier University, a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee and a lean black belt certificate from the Institute of Industrial Engineers. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is a private, independent, not-for-profit Comprehensive Regional Pediatric Center located in Knoxville, Tenn.

My top 3 reasons why I attend the HSPI Conference every year

By Jean Ann Larson
President, Jean Ann Larson & Associates

The annual Healthcare Systems Process Improvement (HSPI) Conference always reenergizes me. I have been attending the conference for well over 30 years. (Time flies while you’re having fun!) My first conference was in Atlanta in 1983. I missed a few along the way but I always come back. No matter what my role – management engineer, assistant hospital director, Chief Learning Officer, VP of Clinical Services and Quality and now independent business and change management consultant - I always come away with new ideas and reconnect with old friends and find new colleagues that I can reach out to for advice, collaboration and professional camaraderie.

So what are some of the top reasons that I come back?

  1. To reconnect with the professionals in health care who are dedicated to helping the industry and the dedicated care givers improve their processes and take better care of their patients and clients.
  2. To be inspired by the stories of practitioners who are dedicated to process improvement and are having a major impact upon the healthcare of their communities and regions.  Our work is unique and we must get it right!  Some day we will be the patients or the loved ones of patients and we want to make sure we’ve done our best to help health care organizations provide the very best care.
  3. To learn new concepts and approaches. They say that there really is nothing new under the sun and at times our healthcare challenges and solutions seem cyclical. However, I am always amazed to learn about new uses of technology, new uses of improvement methodologies as well as the creative perspectives that our broad base of attendees bring to their presentations.

What are your top reasons for attending the annual HSPI Conference?

I hope to see you all next year. I would encourage you to volunteer for a committee such as the conference committee and I encourage you to submit an abstract. I for one, want to hear what you are doing and learn from you.

A weekend of learning: An undergraduate’s perspective of the Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference 2013

By Jenn Badylak-Reals
Industrial Engineering 2013
UMass Amherst

When I first learned about the Society of Health Systems, it was about two weeks before the 2012 national conference in Las Vegas. As an undergraduate student I was right in the middle of midterms and projects and would not be able to spend the time away for my classes, even for Las Vegas. Thus I started planning for the next year to make room to attend the conference and figure out what the heck an engineer actually does in health care. Once I heard the 2013 conference was going to be in New Orleans, I was hoping spring break would be around that time so I could spend more than a workshop filled weekend in The Big Easy, but it didn’t work out that way and luckily too because it was only a high of 40s all week!

As a student my mission for the conference was to absorb as much information as possible from the ample number of workshops hosted by brilliant and experienced attendees. In the spring I will be graduating with 25 fellow industrial engineer students, and only three have had health care experience or exposure. Sadly this is the group from a university with 20,000 undergraduates. Fortunately for me, my phenomenal engineering career center and father have taught me the necessity of networking and to pay forward my effort and work to set myself up for a happier and more successful situation later on. Thus it was a no brainer for me, an industrial engineering student interested in the health care industry, to attend this year’s conference. Fortunately, once I left the beignets behind at the end of the weekend, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to make the trip south.

The SHS conference epitomizes the concept of networking. Starting with the student welcome network session to the opening reception, I was surprised by the excitement and interest everyone was showing in sharing knowledge and meeting new people. These attendees sure know the importance of networking and have it down to a science: listening and helping others with anything, from the issues in the workplace to the best mountains to ski in New Hampshire. At the student networking session I was able to trade ideas of helpful course and locations of internships with fellow students. While at the full conference reception I was able to learn from industry leaders about current issues in hospitals and gather suggestions on courses, software and skills which will help me excel as an engineer in a health care setting. This was exactly the information I needed to complete my college career of knowledge.

Learning continued throughout the weekend with value packed workshops. The workshops geared toward students provided me information to excel in my current work while the other topics exposed me to the current issues and possible solutions to real hospital problems. Although I have experience from research of heath care technology integration and a hospital internship, it was eye opening to see all of the possible ways and problems industrial engineering can be applied to in a health care setting. Additionally these solutions gave me new ideas of ways to analyze data and processes in my course work and project. I was pleased to see some of the operations research, statistical, simulation and lean techniques I have been learning in school, applied to real world problems.

This type of learning is by far the best: through conversations with personable and intelligent industry leaders. Everyone I met was supportive and their passion for health care was evident in their conversations. I would be talking to the friendliest, most down to earth person and then later on find out they are a director of operations for one of the top hospital in the country! An additional plus was many attendees were looking to fill open positions in their institution or company. Nothing is better than learning from the best, staying in contact with the best, conversing with the best all in the Big Easy. I’d call that a value added event for my industrial engineering career.

Jumping in with both feet – Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference 2013 review

By Mark Biscone, Ph.D., FACHE Designate
Health Systems Specialist
Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

2013 marked my 2nd SHS Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference and I jumped in with both feet, cohosting a preconference workshop, giving a seminar, lunch and learn table host, serving as a mentor for multiple students, writing and co-judging the inaugural student case student competition, and serving as a track chair. It certainly was a busy and memorable one!

Like the previous year, I found the conference extremely worthwhile, offering invaluable time to network and talk with others working on systems engineering issues in healthcare. The practical lessons learned and actual project results provided additional data and personal resources for various approaches and improvement areas, stimulating new thinking and spurring potential symbiotic arrangements.

I had the opportunity to co-host a tabletop exercise utilizing Lean concepts in tackling issues in patient flow through Surgery. I have done a few of these in the past and find that they can demonstrate Lean tools and techniques in easy to understand ways with practical examples.

I enjoyed giving my talk, speaking with students, and networking with old friends and new contacts. I especially enjoyed the Student Case Competition.  It was a surprise that writing a case was harder than I had naïvely predicted. The challenge was to provide enough data and info to address a specific problem without leading the groups down a specific path or making potential solutions obvious. I think we struck a good balance, with two groups tackling the problem with enthusiasm and sophistication. I am excited to expand this program in future conferences and wished I had more experience participating in case study competitions.

All in all, the conference went by in a blissful blur leaving me already hungry for next year!

Tales from The Big Easy – Healthcare Systems Process Improvement 2013 review

By Tze Chao Chiam, Ph.D.
UMass Memorial Healthcare
UMass Medical School

“SHS Conference in New Orleans? YES!!!” was my first thought when I learnt about this great conference to take place at a great city – and both did not disappoint. Even though this was my first visit to the conference, I had heard great things about it and had been looking forward to attending it.

Despite having multiple delayed flights on my way to The Big Easy, thus running late for a pre-registered event at the conference, I was grateful that I (and my colleagues and friends) arrived safely. To kick-off my participation at the conference, I attended a simulation dinner hosted by Simul8. As a researcher and practitioner in the healthcare industry using Industrial Engineering tools such as computer simulation, I was glad to see other examples of real-world problems solved by creative implementation of simulation outcomes. My Day 1 at the conference concluded with some great presentations as well as a great 3-course authentic New Orleans meal :-)

All 3 of my alarms went off at 630am of Day 2. Not being an early person, my biggest concern for the day was sleeping through my 8am presentation. Fortunately, I was able to counter the sleepy bug and made it to the morning networking session as well as my own presentation. As I was presenting a mammoth process redesign project that had a large impact on our hospital, I was glad to have the 50-min slot to convey to the audience major milestones from pre-work to post implementation, from utilizing computer simulation, statistical analysis, to Lean implementation.

Throughout my presentation as well as from post-presentation discussion, I had a chance to connect with multiple audience members, including clinicians, professors, researchers, architects, process improvement professionals and students. Being in the industry where silos are unfortunately still the norm, such multidisciplinary discussion was intellectually fulfilling and ought to be encouraged and facilitated more often in the industry.

Besides serving as a forum for high-quality presentations and discussions, SHS Conference also provided opportunities for networking as well as catching-up with friends and colleagues. I had the chance to get back in touch with friends from my college years, supervisor from my past internship, as well as making new connections with professionals that I might not have met otherwise.

Being a foodie, I took every opportunity to enjoy the great food a city had to offer. I had the chance to visit one of the best restaurants in town (think “The Next Iron Chef” finalist) as well as multiple candy stores in the French Quarter to satisfy my sweet tooth. A crawfish bisque, crab maison, crawfish etoufee, jambalaya, alligator po-boy, and multiple boxes of Creole pralines (to-go) later, I left SHS Conference and New Orleans satisfied – intellectually and “culinarily”.

Where are your organization’s Process Improvement Professionals?

Within SHS, we are continually trying to properly profile our membership and associates to better serve their needs. We ask that you please take a moment (< 5 minutes) and respond to a survey that can be found through the link below. We hope to utilize a series of similar surveys if response and results are well received. Thank you.