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Houston, we have a problem in hospitals: And NASA-trained Engineers are coming to Chicago to Fix it

This isn’t rocket science.  Or is it?

Etosha Ottey began her career at NASA. As a systems engineer focused on discrete event simulation, she worked in a program helping to design ground operations.  In 2015, after three years at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, she rocket-boosted her career to GE Healthcare’s software engineering lab located just outside of Chicago.

The mission: launch the world’s first NASA-style command center, a predictive patient-experience control room where staff can run a hospital with the help of a new source of analytics.

Destination: The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD with the next one scheduled to open in her new city next year at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

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Etosha pictured in 2012 at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL

If Etosha’s journey sounds like a space odyssey, it’s more of a voyage, and it’s one top-talent like Etosha are eager to make.  Migrating to the Midwest from organizations like NASA, Microsoft and  Accenture to work for GE Healthcare Partners, an advisory firm within GE Healthcare, has its perks.  Compared  to  Silicon Valley, the cost of living is reasonable and leading academic institutions are abundant, reasons why Chicago is considered one of the fastest growing tech-markets in the US.

In 2009, Max Garifullin, a senior data scientist from GE’s Global Research center came to work in the lab. He works with a team of approximately 40 data scientists and engineers on how to leverage hospital digital twin, design solutions and analytics consultancy to solve the toughest operational challenges that exist in hospitals today.  “Our focus is around how best to improve clinical and operational patient flow,” said Max. “Each of our projects have specific outcomes.  We have proven to reduce wait times in hospitals by weaving in real-time prediction.  What impresses me most about this team is the variety of backgrounds coming together to make this change happen in healthcare.”

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Max Garifullin stationed in Ireland where he is building hospital digital twins for the UK

So, what’s fundamentally different about applying this type of science to healthcare versus other industries? Being bilingual in data science and patient care.

“At NASA, we would go out in the field and look through archives of data, talk to engineers, it’s a hands-on process,” said Etosha.  “In healthcare, we get packages of data gathered by EMR.  We leverage a lot of data science skills at GE Healthcare, more operations research, applied mathematics and applied statistics.”

Healthcare has become increasingly complex.  As the industry shifts to a more customer-centric model, the push toward a digital transformation is greater than ever. Because of its direct link to patients, as compared to other big data industries, healthcare is perhaps the most challenging, and therefore, dependent on data scientists who understand and analyze how to use data to solve problems, particularly in the hospital environment.

It’s all about efficiency.

Well-organized data allows for the comforts of life that consumers and now patients have come to expect.  If online retail providers can predict when you’ll need your next batch of vitamins, why then, has it become mission impossible for hospitals to use their data to predict the busiest spots and times of day to make it easier for patients to enter in, around and out of the hospital?

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GE Healthcare, Partners has built 50 Hospital Digital Twins across eight countries

“What if”

Etosha, Max and team help hospital executives answer “what if” scenarios that give insights into how best to relocate resources to improve patient flow, hallway traffic, decreased operational costs and improve the patient experience.  In the case of Johns Hopkins, the command center has already proven to reduce patient wait times and increase the number of patients the hospitals can take in from other locations.

Totally redirecting how patients flow around a hospital takes technical creativity, which Etosha calls a form of art, one of her many passions along with calculus, physics and system engineering. “I’m particularly interested in fashion design. If you think about it, artists aren’t unlike like data scientists, both require technical abilities to take raw materials and transform it into something meaningful.”