Professor Antoine Sauré is a new faculty member at the Telfer School of Management whose research focuses on solving capacity-planning and patient-scheduling problems in healthcare services. Professor Sauré talked about his research interests in a recent conversation.
Can you describe your earlier career, before coming to Canada?
I’m originally from Chile, where I worked on operations management problems in a number of different industries. My last applied project before coming to Canada was with the company that runs Santiago’s subway system. It focused on determining the staffing levels and shift schedules required to operate the company’s fare collection system. That’s a classic operations management problem. Your solution has to meet a pre-defined service level for wait lines, by allocating service resources in the most cost-effective way.
You made healthcare your main focus when you came to Canada to do your Ph.D. at UBC. What drives your current research interest in healthcare?
In the healthcare field, research has the potential to help system administrators make crucial decisions that will ensure timely access to care for patients and more cost-effective healthcare delivery. Looking into healthcare problems, a researcher is always aware of the potential to improve a person’s quality of life, so that’s very rewarding.
I’m also drawn to the challenge of capturing the complexity around healthcare decisions. Service resources have to be allocated wisely, even when future demand for service is uncertain, and taking into account patient preferences and urgency levels. A researcher will use advanced analytics techniques to find a solution to the problem – one that most likely will be distilled into a practice guideline. A hospital booking clerk might be the person who will implement the guideline, and they’ll be able to do that without knowing anything about the math behind it. The research might appear complicated, while the end product is often deceptively simple.
Tell us about a healthcare-related project you have been involved in.
Most commercial patient scheduling tools in healthcare serve more like bookkeeping systems. As a member of a research team affiliated with the BC Cancer Agency, I helped develop and implement an intelligent chemotherapy appointment scheduling tool, called Chemo SmartBook, which was much more than a bookkeeping system. It had an optimization model behind it, so it provided a strong foundation to make better patient scheduling decisions. It was a huge success, enabling shorter appointment notification times for patients and also balancing the workload of nurses and pharmacists. It resulted in greater patient and staff satisfaction, because it was designed to take both viewpoints into account.
What gets you excited about the future research in this area?
More attention is being paid to operations management problems in healthcare than ever before, which is very encouraging. There’s starting to be a greater recognition that clinical innovations and operations-side innovations go hand in hand. If you have a new treatment, that new treatment might also bring higher costs, and a higher frequency of visits to be effective. So in order to provide true clinical improvement, the operational side has to be efficient. That’s where there is an expanding role for research on the operational side, because it really can lead to better use of existing resources, and thus, improved patient care.