How can mathematics improve healthcare?

Madison Weaver, Staff Writer


Assistant Professor of Management Alia Stanciu gave a presentation titled “From Airlines to Healthcare: Scheduling Services with High Variability” on April 21 as part of the mathematics department’s Student Colloquium Series.

Stanciu discussed how the application of mathematics and algorithms used to combat the variability of airline service can improve the efficiency of healthcare systems, sharing her research and exploring larger questions about the problems caused by variability. She also shared examples of algorithms that can be applied to both airlines and healthcare scheduling.

Stanciu highlighted the main differences between airlines and healthcare systems.

“[Most people] don’t know or understand the complexities of the algorithms that go beyond understanding how many seats are to be saved for price categories, when to close a booking level, or how many flights should be scheduled every single day,” Stanciu said.

However, healthcare systems face even more variables.

“The healthcare variability is more complex and more difficult to put into practice … We really lack scheduling in healthcare in order to put it up to par with airlines and other industries,” Stanciu said.

The presentation largely focused on revenue management, which entails maximizing profits by managing the demand for a product or service. Stanciu argued that most of the variability in both airlines and healthcare arises from consumer demand.

“If you wait for an airline you make a fuss about it, but if you wait at the doctor’s you stay quiet because otherwise you’re not going to get another appointment anytime soon. That is unheard of in any other industry and it is because of a lot of inefficiencies that are going on,” Stanciu said.

Stanciu emphasized the need for better time estimates and the importance of accounting for no-show and cancellation rates, as well as emergencies. Efficiency must be prioritized when lives are at stake.

“Better, more efficient scheduling would allow doctors time to finish procedures … Most of the time, schedulers are not working with doctors,” Stanciu said. “Just a one percent increase in efficiency will result in almost a billion dollars in savings. That’s huge … When things are rushed, a lot of bad things happen, especially in healthcare … 100,000 die per year [in healthcare] just because of preventable things,” Stanciu said.

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