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Sometimes it takes an engineer

Conquest - Summer 2012

By Jenny Montgomery

As director of Quality Measurement and 
Engineering, Victoria Jordan, Ph.D., oversees 
quality engineers who consult on some of 
MD Anderson's more complex problems.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

If quality engineers can speed up a car assembly line, why not the time it takes to fill a patient’s prescription? If they can reduce shipping errors, why not a doctor’s billing errors?

Most on MD Anderson’s Quality Measurement and Engineering team bring expertise they learned on factory floors.

Their department director, Victoria Jordan, Ph.D., has worked as a quality consultant for a wide range of industries, from beer to steel.

Although well aware they no longer grease the wheels of industry, these engineers see familiar opportunities for improving health care:

  • A lab can reconfigure the floor plan of its waiting room to eliminate bottlenecks.
  • Appointment schedulers can tweak their templates so patients don’t have to wait so long for a CT scan.
  • A clinic can adjust its staff schedules to accommodate peak times.

Sometimes employees find their own fixes through the educational and consulting services offered by the Department of Process Improvement and Quality Education. But when a complex problem calls for the more sophisticated tools wielded by engineers — think math models and statistical analysis — Jordan’s department is ready to help.

The two departments share office space and often work together, along with Patient Safety and Accreditation, led by Julie Foster. They are overseen by John Bingham, vice president and chief quality officer.

Related story: Where change begins

Within Process Improvement, there are no “silos.” They all work together to help the organization achieve institutional goals and improve the patient experience.

For example, the quality engineering team, under Larry Vines, associate director, teaches classes within the Quality College and often facilitates Clinical Safety and Effectiveness teams.

And even as a process improvement team maps out processes in the Head and Neck Center so costs can be calculated, the quality engineering team is helping the center tackle a project to enhance the patient experience.

The center intends to address the time it takes for a new patient to get an appointment, the time from the first appointment to final day of treatment, the frequency of diagnostic testing and clinical visits, and nurse staffing.

Jordan hopes what’s learned from the project can be applied elsewhere. With only about a dozen engineers on the payroll, she closely scrutinizes requests for their help, based on the priorities of MD Anderson’s leaders and the likelihood of institution-wide implications.

“Transformation won’t come from a project here, a project there,” Jordan says. “Quality improvement should be going on that we don’t even know about. Everyone must realize he or she has a role to play.”


  • CS&E session

    CS&E course

    Doris Quinn, Ph.D., director of Process Improvement and Quality Education, addresses a session of the Clinical Safety and Effectiveness program. The course teaches quality improvement concepts to teams taking on problems in their work areas.
    Photo: Paul SoRelle

  • Shirt folding exercise

    Efficiency at work

    During training on Lean Methodology, Quality Improvement Education Consultant Barbara Shelton demonstrates how to fold a T-shirt in the fewest steps. The training shows students how to apply methods to work, so they can preserve the value of the effort with less work.
    Photo: Paul SoRelle

  • Marshmallow exercise

    Standing tall

    Teams in the Clinical Safety and Effectiveness course use toothpicks and marshmallows to build a tower. Joyce Dains, director of perioperative nursing, and Sandra Lue, administrative director of perioperative finance, work on their building. The exercise depends on the expertise in the team to find a design for a structure that will stand.
    Photo: Paul SoRelle

  • Marshmallow exercise

    Measuring up

    Miguel Lozano Garcia, senior quality engineer, watches as a teammate measures their marshmallow and toothpick structure.
    Photo: Paul SoRelle

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