Home health care workers crisscross U.S. roads logging more than five million miles annually. They provide high quality services that often yield improved health outcomes at a lower cost than if provided in a hospital setting. However, the processes for routing and scheduling these important services has not kept up with the demand necessary to manage the 12 million patients requiring service in the U.S.
Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing an electronic system that can streamline the scheduling process and provide more efficient and consistent service to patients. Mike Hewitt, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, received a grant from The New York State Health Foundation to develop a new software package that will utilize optimization algorithms to more efficiently route healthcare workers, reducing travel and wait times.
"Algorithm based routing systems are used frequently by shipping companies to more efficiently schedule pickups and drop offs," says Hewitt, an expert in optimization research. "Our system tailors the technology for use in home health care scheduling."
The software will map travel times and mileage and track movement of care workers to assist managers in creating more efficient schedules and routes that take into account travel times for workers and distances between patients. It will also include point-of-care metrics, such as flagging patients who need specialized equipment or support such as dialysis.
"Many local health care agencies have finite budgets and are looking for areas to reduce costs," Hewitt adds. "By creating scheduling systems that maximize limited resources we can reduce budgetary stress on these agencies while providing better services to patients.
The team is working with a Rochester-based home health care agency to determine business requirements and build the software. This will be followed by the development of a working prototypes and the creation of a broad pilot study this coming fall. Hewitt ultimately hopes to provide the software package to interested agencies for free through a dedicated web site.
"Home health care is an increasing important part of our medical system and is much more cost effective than in-hospital care," Hewitt says. "Through this research we hope to improve the delivery and reduce the cost of this essential health care service.