© Jeroen Bosch Ziekenhuis

A daily update suddenly makes emergencies manageable. The Jeroen Bosch Hospital in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, had to set up a corona hospital next to the regular facility in the early stages of the corona crisis. They were faced with questions like which specialists to deploy where, when and how many?

The data science company Pipple was called in to solve the puzzle quickly. Five days later, they produced the Capacity Model Covid-19, which predicts the number of specialists needed each day. “As simple as it is, it is very gratifying for people in the hospital world to see that something that normally takes us six months can apparently be done in five days,” says Lotte Rijksen. She works for the Federation of Medical Specialists (FMS) as a consultant for the Jeroen Bosch Hospital. She is supporting the Brabant hospital during the corona crisis in the deployment of the specialists and professionals.

Doctors now tackle everything together

“The priority was to set up the corona hospital and ensure that urgent clinical regular care could continue,” says Rijksen. Almost all specialists were deployed in the new hospital. “Whereas the specialists used to work only within their field of expertise, they now deal with everything together. For example, a psychiatrist, a cardiologist and an internist are all working together in this situation.”

We looked at the skills and competences of all these medical specialists and compared them to the work required in the five corona departments. Then we actually got to the point where we said, “You should be able to calculate that automatically.” If you know you have an influx of X number of patients in the emergency room, some of whom will be hospitalized, and of that group another X percentage is transferred to intensive care, then what is the required commitment of professionals?” That’s when Pipple came into the picture.

Pooling knowledge

Together with Lars Quaedvlieg, a data scientist at Pipple, Rijksen went to work. She was responsible for the medical content side, Quaedvlieg for the software and econometric side. Rijksen: “It was very nice to be able to pool our knowledge.”

For Quaedvlieg, who normally has assignments such as setting up things like mortgage models, the hospital was a whole new environment. “It’s nice to be able to make a difference in this crisis. It was also a mathematically interesting task for him. “There are a lot of solutions possible: Put doctor A in ward A, doctor B in ward B or doctor A in B. What is the optimal solution?” He translated the substantive wishes of the hospital and the expected inflow and outflow of patients into formulas. Because it had to be quick, it remained a “quick and dirty” solution. “It is and remains just an Excel tool,” Quaedvlieg says modestly.

Optimizing scheduling

Within the restrictions that exist, this application is the most feasible. When the crisis is over and if the hospital wants to, Quaedvlieg sees possibilities to use mathematics, to optimize the planning, reduce waiting times and make schedules more efficient, for example. At least that’s the direction he sees the way the hospital moving now. If you can coordinate these planning issues better between the departments that are now operating like islands, then the whole hospital will benefit.

The national governments also recognize these “islands.” “I think after corona, we’ll go to work with another mindset. Before corona, the hospital was already looking at how to use staff differently, but now because of this emergency, it has to. “All the different specialties currently have one and the same task: caring for corona patients. The fact that planned non-urgent care is currently disappearing gives them the opportunity to work together. Previously, this was practically unthinkable. When we return to calmer waters, we will evaluate and reopen the discussion on staff deployment.”

Eliminating backlogs

It will still take some time before calm waters prevail, Rijksen warns. As soon as this crisis is over, the regular hospital must be restarted and all backlogs cleared. It will be at least a year down the road before the hospitals are able to rest.

Money is also needed to develop an optimal planning system. Pipple developed the current application pro bono. The Federation of Medical Specialists is also making it available free of charge on their website for all hospitals. Jeroen de Haas, chief of Pipple’s mission, thinks it is important to contribute something as a mathematician in times of crisis. Or, apart from a crisis, to help a social organization that has little money.

De Haas: ”It’s very good that we as a non-vital profession can help vital professions do their work smarter.”

Photo: Front right: Lars Quaedvlieg (Pipple), left in front of Lotte Rijksen (FMS)

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About the author

Author profile picture Corine Spaans is a writer. She is particularly interested in the stories of the people behind the innovations and has a passion for sport (innovation).