Boston Medical Center (BMC) is a private, nonprofit, 514-bed, academic medical center. Located in the city’s South End, the hospital largely cares for Boston’s underserved communities, including low-income and elderly patients. BMC’s General Internal Medicine Department (GIM) began offering telehealth visits out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic but hoped to continue the practice and thereby increase patient treatment rates.
To support its decision-making, the medical center asked MIT Sloan's Operations Lab (Ops-Lab) for help developing a mechanism for deciding which patients to see in person.
Two master’s students in MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program, Lauren Sakerka and Paige Wyler, teamed up to address this challenge. They assessed GIM’s current scheduling framework, calculated how many appointments would be needed to establish quality care, and researched and analyzed the difference between telehealth and in-person appointments. They found, for example, that telehealth cancellation rates were substantially lower than in-person appointments for most groups served.
They then developed a scheduling tool and provided guidelines for how best to allocate appointments based on such factors as patient demographics, provider availability, and room capacity.
“Patient appointment scheduling is more complicated than it sounds, and anything that can be done to increase the likelihood that a patient will maintain a scheduled appointment is a good thing,” says MIT Sloan lecturer Catherine Iacobo, industry co-director of MIT Leaders for Global Operations, and Ops-Lab instructor. “The solution the students delivered will help BMC create a schedule that will facilitate equitable access to quality primary care.”
The students learned first-hand how a theoretical model can be applied for impact in the real world, improving patients’ ability to get treatment. “Seeing this positive application of statistics to help increase a patient’s likelihood of going to the doctor was very rewarding,” Sakerka says.