Seems a disconnect, the notion that an industrial engineer would be bridging the health disparity gap, but no mystery here. Jiming Peng, associate professor of industrial engineering, is an “optimization guy,” as he says, so it’s a good fit.

Industrial engineers improve different areas of life with industrial solutions. They make wait times shorter for rides at amusement parks and streamline the manufacturing processes of automobiles to make cars more affordable.

Peng is creating efficient routes to send mobile health care clinics into at-risk communities in Houston, where thousands of children who attend school in the Houston Independent School District need vaccinations.

Peng’s work is supported by a National Science Foundation Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER), which funds potentially transformative research to improve lives.

Peng and project partner Rigoberto Delgado of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston collected data from three mobile clinic programs and pored over census data. Based on their analysis, they created a demand map highlighting vaccination needs per school zone. Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) has used it to improve its mobile-clinic efficiency.

Still, it’s not enough, notes Peng, who reports that in HISD first and seventh grades alone, more than 8,000 students need vaccinations. If scheduled carefully, on average a mobile clinic can service 40 students per day. Historical clinic data shows that the mobile clinic program at TCH serves fewer than 2,000 students per year, which is 50 percent below its capacity.

“There is a large gap between the capacity of the program and its actual performance. The demand in HISD is beyond what they can handle,” said Peng. The hospital is working to improve efficiency and grow capacity.

Peng’s mission grows with the increasing demand. He’s building a network of mobile clinics, including all the service providers and target communities in Harris County, to improve the overall efficiency of the network. 

“I feel, with my training, part of my obligation is to help create a system where health care can be more evenly distributed,” said Peng.

That’s a shot in the arm for children who need vaccines.