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Embrace modelling for a better health system: international expert

Can you design a better health system around you?

Professor Terry Young, from London’s Brunel University, unpacked this question in a seminar at Flinders College of Medicine and Public Health.

Flinders Professor Mark Mackay said not enough time is spent teaching healthcare professionals and students about designing an efficient system for moving patients through hospitals.

“While it’s clear that our future health professionals and our current health professionals have a focus on building and practising their clinical skills, they are key decision-makers in the system. Consequently, it’s important that these decision-makers and those involved in health management have the opportunity to learn about tools that may help improve the flow of patients through the health system. At the same time, better system design needs a multidisciplinary approach.”

Mackay said Australian healthcare providers, particularly hospitals, have much to gain from the Cumberland Initiative, a movement to encourage simulation and modelling of healthcare scenarios to improve quality of care.

The Australian version of the collaboration, formed in 2014 and headed by Mackay, is made up of clinicians and non-clinicians who are interested in using design thinking, systems thinking and operations research methods to improve the health sector.

Last year, Mackay and Young co-authored a piece published in The Conversation that argued the health sector can learn from other industries that turn to operations research (modelling) to fix everyday challenges.

“Take check out lines, for example,” they wrote. “Rather than customers having to choose which queue to join – and face uncertain wait times – some retailers are now introducing single queues designed to provide the quickest service time to all customers based on a first come, first served basis.”

While they said the health system is yet to routinely embrace this style of modelling, other countries have seen success using the approach.

“The National Health Service (NHS) in Wales has created a modelling unit that’s embedded in hospitals to help redesign services in a more connected way. This has improved rostering of the workforce, led to better decisions on where to locate services, and optimised operating room schedules to avoid unnecessary patient cancellations.”

The authors suggested clinicians, health managers, and systems modellers and designers work together and acknowledge that while hospital staff do great work, the sector can do better by giving them better tools to help tackle the challenges they face.

Nursing Review spoke with Young about the Cumberland Initiative and how health professionals can ensure that they are key decision-makers in system building.

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