• newswise-fullscreen Study Designed to Help ER Doctors Manage Patient Information

    Credit: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

    UTHealth researchers Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D., and Amy Franklin, Ph.D., are working to streamline emergency department communications.

Newswise — Researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have been awarded a four-year, $1.9 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to enhance the care in hospital emergency departments.

The mission of the AHRQ, one of 12 agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care for all Americans.

The focus of the study led by Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D., interim dean of the UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics, is to make sure the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

Zhang and his colleagues are studying how emergency medicine doctors deal with a high workload, constant interruptions and multitasking. Researchers are particularly interested in how doctors switch back and forth between tasks and how this affects their decision making.

The goal of the study, which involves observing the health care team, is to develop interventions to reduce information overload and improve communication.

“We want to help doctors look five moves ahead,” said Amy Franklin, Ph.D., co-leader of the project with Zhang and assistant professor of biomedical informatics at UTHealth. “We are using state-of-the-art electronic health record systems to improve access to data.”

Brent King, M.D., co-investigator and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School, said, “Right now, most information is communicated verbally.”

The study will be conducted at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, which has the nation’s busiest trauma center. In 2009, the nation’s emergency departments had 136 million visits and about a third of those visits were for injuries.

Those interventions, for example, could be an emergency department “dashboard” that would display vital information for groups of patients or individual patients.

Another intervention could be the development of software programs for tracking patient data on tablets, Zhang said.

Zhang and his colleagues will test their communication systems in a virtual world called Second Life. There, the researchers can simulate the activities of a busy emergency department and then introduce their communication prototypes.

This could lead to studies with patients.

Other UTHealth researchers involved in the project include: David Robinson, M.D., professor of emergency medicine; Eric Thomas, M.D., professor of medicine; Hongbin Wang, Ph.D., professor of biomedical informatics; and Nnaemeka G. Okafor, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine.

Zhang is the Dr. Doris L. Ross Professor; King is the Clive, Nancy, and Pierce Runnels Distinguished Professor of Emergency Medicine; and Thomas is the Griff T. Ross Professor in Humanities and Technology in Health Care.

The grant is titled Opportunistic Decision Making, Information Needs and Workflow in Emergency Care.

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