Family Health Scare Leads to Healthcare Systems Engineering
Kendall Sanderson, BS, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering 2013—To the industrial engineering major, one of the most fascinating problems to solve is the efficient routing of delivery trucks around the country. When Sanderson learned he could apply this skill to the healthcare industry to prevent mistakes like those made with his mother, he knew he’d found his calling.
During his second year at Northeastern, Sanderson began working in the Healthcare Systems Engineering Institute and National Science Foundation healthcare center of James Benneyan, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering with an honorary joint appointment in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. There, he learned about the tragedy of the healthcare system: “It’s a $3 trillion industry,” Sanderson said, “and about 30 percent of that can be attributed to inefficient, poorly designed processes.”
Sanderson’s work earned him one of 17 university’s Outstanding Cooperative Education Awards this spring as well as the Society for Health Systems undergraduate scholarship, which is offered each year to one student in the country. He plans to join Benneyan’s new $8 million CMS center as a master’s degree candidate in the fall and to continue making the healthcare world more efficient over the course of his career.
Inspired by his own family’s experiences Kendall Sanderson has devoted his academic career to the optimization of the healthcare industry. His research focuses on patient flow, optimization, predictive modeling, scheduling and tools for real-time decision making. After receiving his BS in Industrial Engineering Sanderson is pursuing his MS in Operations Research at Northeastern University. His interests and skills fit his role as a graduate research assistant at the Healthcare Systems Engineering Institute (HSyE) led by program director James Benneyan. He began working at the HSyE as an undergraduate student which earned him an Outstanding Cooperative Education Award as well as the Society for Health Systems undergraduate scholarship, offered each year to one student in the country.
At Boston’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Sanderson got his first taste of what it’s like to be an engineer in a world dominated by physicians and clinicians, whose main goal is to heal patients rather than efficiently move them around the hospital. In addition to turning the nursing supply closets into spreadsheets of data that could be analyzed and optimized, Sanderson assisted with process improvement workshops for the hospital employees to implement standard efficiency protocols on their own.
For his second co-op, Sanderson spent two months manually tracking all of the patient and clinician activity in the pediatric floor at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Every 15 minutes he’d take note of where patients were—in the waiting room, say, or in a hospital room with a nurse. He turned his notes into a massive database that he used to model patient flow on the floor. With that kind of model in hand, he could identify the areas most often overcrowded or under-utilized and the best solutions to address them.
At Dana Farber, he also worked on a pilot study that automatically tracked that same information using sensors embedded in the clinic’s roof and tracking devices carried by patients during their visits. Implementing that system on a large scale would be an expensive undertaking, Sanderson explained, but the investment would be worth the cost if it could deliver sufficient waste savings.