• YEAR: PhD student
  • MAJOR: Industrial Engineering
  • HOMETOWN: Bangkok, Thailand

Benjavan Upatising

As a consumer and mother of four, Benjavan "Den" Upatising has experienced many of the same frustrations most everyone encounters with health care providers -- from seemingly interminable stays in waiting rooms and other everyday inconveniences to more serious issues regarding quality, safety, cost and effectiveness. As a Purdue-trained industrial engineer, she also is uniquely positioned to bring improvements to the ailing system.

Partners in progress

Den, a native of Thailand who moved to West Lafayette in 1984, is in the final year of a four-year Mayo Clinic Healthcare Engineering Fellowship with Purdue's Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering that is centered on a home-telemonitoring study of elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions.

"Mayo Clinic has always been my source for medical advice, and it is a real honor and privilege to be working as Purdue's first Mayo Clinic Healthcare Engineering fellow," says Den, who is completing her PhD under Purdue industrial engineering professor Yuehwern Yih.

Caring by design

Through the fellowship, Den is part of a team of researchers analyzing data and developing predictive models from a controlled trial that involved 205 patients at four Mayo Clinic outpatient practice locations.

"Are there factors that can be used to predict when home telemonitoring, provided by the primary care practice, can reduce hospitalizations, emergency department visits and total health care cost for older adult patients with multiple chronic illnesses, high risk of worsening functional and medical status, and hospitalization?" she says. "If so, then how can we use the knowledge to develop a decision-support tool that can assist physicians in deciding the appropriate level of care?"

Meaningful expertise

Den earned a BS in industrial engineering from Purdue and a master's degree from the University of Michigan before working in industry for Whirlpool, Accenture and Toshiba. Her career path eventually took her back to Thailand, where she employed her expertise to address manufacturing and business process issues for appliances.

Den got her first formal taste of the health care profession when she translated a book and drafted hospital documents related to Thailand's Joint Commission International hospital accreditation and audits. "I learned a lot about hospital internal processes, procedures and services, and I realized it was time for me to move into a career that was more meaningful, like health care," she says.

A healthy future

As she completes her PhD and the Mayo Clinic fellowship, Den continues to enjoy a positive prognosis for her career as well as for the possible applications of her research. "I'm excited about the role that engineering, specifically industrial engineering, can play in improving this nation's health care system," she says.