When David Rea was working on his Ph.D. in business administration at the University of Cincinnati, his focus was mainly statistical. Then, administrators of a local hospital system approached him with an operational challenge that had the potential to improve human well-being. Since then, much of his work has focused on solving problems that present both technical and human-related challenges.
“My field is traditionally very focused on efficiency, which makes sense considering that it comes out of manufacturing principles,” says Rea, now a faculty member in the Decision and Technology Analytics Department of the College of Business. “If a widget waits for a while, or gets lost in the system, as long as your overall efficiency is high, that’s OK. In my work, I’m asking: How do you take those same principles and apply them to situations where efficiency is not the only central objective?”
The local hospital system administrators were looking to manage the allocation of physicians’ clinical time across the different emergency medicine departments they operated throughout the city. While the hospital needed to ensure optimal service levels, it also wanted to accommodate physicians’ location preferences. With physician burnout an ongoing challenge affecting the health systems nationwide, administrators were looking to balance operational needs with a need to ensure their employees’ job satisfaction.
Could Rea help them identify allocations that would be both operationally efficient and be received well by the medical staff?
“You’re essentially trying to automate a fair process,” says Rea. “And the problem with that is that people have differing perceptions of what makes something ‘fair.’”