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Students Engineer a Digital Solution for Senior Care Provider

ties nurse downsize
Lindsay Ramsey, nurse at St. Paul's Senior Homes & Services, being trained to operate an electronic version of the 24-hour patient log by Ellen Noh, leader of the user centered design subteam.
December 16, 2005 -- A team of UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering students recently spent a day at St. Paul’s Senior Homes & Services, demonstrating a system they designed to enable nurses to manage patient information via an easy-to-use computer interface.

The ‘Digital Nursing’ project is one of the first tangible results from the School’s new Teams in Engineering Services (TIES) Program.   TIES brings together multi-disciplinary teams of UCSD students to create technology solutions for nonprofit community partners. In turn, the students receive academic credit and a crash course in customer-driven engineering.

TIES was launched in Fall 2004 with 40 students and two community partners, St. Paul’s and the Lakeside Conservancy.  The program continued to gain momentum in 2005, with three new community clients signing on this fall, more than 70 students participating, and several new industry sponsors.

At St. Paul’s, the UCSD team was assigned to create an electronic version of the 24-hour log, which is used to track changes in the condition of each St. Paul’s assisted living facility residents. The current log is a hand-written document shared among all the nurses.  Moving the log into a digital format would make resident care information easier to track, and a WiFi link would enable multiple nurses to access the log simultaneously from several different laptops, which were donated by Northrop Grumman Information Technology.

griswold and students
The Digital Nursing team included, from left, Jonathan Yu, Ellen Noh, Loren Baxter, Debbie Lu, computer science professor Bill Griswold, AndyLau, and James Chung.
The 11 students involved in the project (including cognitive science, bioengineering, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering majors) approached the task by dividing into three teams: the user-centered design team conducted research among the nurses to design user interface pages that coincide with the nurses’ work practices; the software team developing the digital log as a web browser-based application; while the hardware team set up a server/workstation, addressed the needs of sustaining power, enabled a touch screen display, and integrated the entire design onto an existing nurses’ cart.

“To be working with a multidisciplinary team is a really good experience because you get to work on what you’re good at, but you can put all these different pieces together,” said Kevin Jung, team leader for the Digital Nursing project and a fifth year computer engineering student at the Jacobs School.

To Ellen Noh,  a senior majoring in cognitive science major and summer intern who was responsible for creating a user interface that was intuitive for the nurses, the Digital Nursing project has proven to be one of the best experiences of her studies. A big part of Noh’s job has been to make frequent visits to St. Paul’s to shadow the nurses and find out what areas of their daily work practices can be improved.

“This project has prepared me for the real world,” Noh said. “You have to figure out what the client’s needs are and any major roadblocks that come along.  It feels good to help people.”

So far, the digital log is receiving kudos from the St. Paul’s nurses including Lindsay Ramsey.  After seeing the students' demonstration she said the digital log is “easy to use and will be easily adopted.” Ramsey, also Medical Database Coordinator for St. Paul’s, called the current 24-hour paper log a “mess.” “You have page after page to go through,” she said. “If you have a system like the digital log where you can just click on a patient’s name and it gives you all the information, it would make it easier. It will also save stress and time because it will be centrally located.”

Ramsey is one of five nurses who have been trained on the digital log to date. With the prototype complete and fully operational, the Jacobs School students are continuing to refine the system and add upgraded features such as a patient-specific to-do list and better information-retrieval systems.  In 2006, they plan to investigate the use of a PDA digital log, improve the existing interface, and design an interface for the rest of the medical log.

Bill Griswold, academic advisor for the Digital Nursing project, said the project fits into the overall TIES mission, which is to teach engineering students communication and leadership skills, and how to use technology to make a difference in the community. He said the project also forces engineering students to step outside their comfort zone to learn about and work within different environments.

The Digital Nursing project is one of eight TIES projects that will continue in 2006. Among the newest assignments are:

 K-12 Atmospheric Literacy

When the fire storms raced through San Diego in 2003, the information about the air quality for returning school children was limited. To combat this problem and educate K-12 students and teachers about climate, a new TIES project will bring engineering and atmospheric literacy into K-12 classrooms.

 United Cerebral Palsy Universal Toy Adaptor

Toys offer the reward of fun, enabling children to learn new skills and allow focus on abilities rather than disabilities. Building on the work of Jacobs School mechanical engineering students who have forged the way for bringing affordable solutions to easy toy manipulations for children with disabilities. The new TIES project will create affordable solutions to easy toy manipulations for children with disabilities.  These toys will help the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation expand their adapted toy library.

 Save Our Children’s Sight Digital Vision Screening

The hardware and software specifications of a pediatric digital vision screening system identifying children with potential eye problems, needs to be updated. The new TIES project aims to integrate a high-resolution digital camera and lens system to a refined scanning software in order for Save Our Children’s Sight to keep provided comprehensive vision for low-income preschoolers in San Diego County.

All of the technology solutions developed by the students are provided for free to the community clients, and TIES relies on private support for this service learning initiative.  Current sponsors of TIES projects include the AT&T Foundation, the National Science Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, Kioware, Microsoft, National Instruments and the National EPICS Program. Paul and Sally Russo provided summer intern support for the Digital Nursing project.  For more information about how to adopt a TIES project, contact Silvia Mah at samah@ucsd.edu or 858-822-4164.

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