MU engineer develops new method to improve ICU workflow

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COLUMBIA - An MU engineering assistant professor has developed a tool designed to improve care for patients in intensive care units by tracking the movement of nurses.

The device will gather data that hospitals can use to improve efficiency and ability to focus on patients. 

Dr. Jung Hyup Kim's method tracks the location of ICU nurses within a certain range and picks up data on the actions they perform, such as attending to a patient or using a unit's computer.

The system uses Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging, and calibration points can be set anywhere within range of a monitoring device to pick up location devices worn by the nurses. 

Kim said previous studies about nurse efficiency used in-person or video monitoring, which could influence the nurse's performance. 

"This is kind of how we initiated this project, and by combining the manual observation and introducing new technology, so that we can clearly see the pictures of what's happening in hospitals," Kim said.

The results helped Kim create a flowchart of the various ways nurses' activities can be performed, which could help nurses and hospitals be more efficient with their time, and focus more on the patient.

He said ICU nurses are experiencing a heavy workload because they have to do both patient care and do a lot of data input into electronic medical records.

"The definition of intensive care unit means you have to take care of your patient intensively," he said.

Kim said the electronic medical records require a great deal of time and attention.

"So this is more like intensive data input rather than intensive patient care," he said.

Dr. Laurel Despins helped coordinate the research in the ICU, provided prior information about patient care and recruited nurses to assist in the research. She said the technology will be beneficial in the long run.

"I would want to look at the sequence of activity paths that the more experienced nurse does, and then immediately use that information to help educate the new nurse coming on board to get them in a system," she said.

The research was presented earlier this year at the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Conference.