Industrial and systems engineering coursework more relevant than ever

By Annabelle Mosier

During the Spring 2020 semester, a global health crisis due to rapid spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-COV2 required marked changes to university operations as well as everyone’s daily life and well-being. As challenging as making all these necessary adjustments was, our students and faculty showed remarkable dedication and the relevance of many classes to the global workplace was made even clearer. One such class was Human Factors in Healthcare, taught by Industrial and Systems Engineering professor Dr. Priyadarshini Pennathur.

Healthcare work involves complex, high consequence, and high-risk goals requiring communication and coordination among many stakeholders, interaction with complex technologies and real-time decision-making. This graduate level course examines healthcare systems design with a heavy focus on human factors.

Dr. Pennathur’s students had the format of their course change dramatically with the switch to remote learning in March, but that didn’t stop them from turning out excellent work. Three student teams turned out projects that utilize fascinating human factors concepts and principles and are very relevant to the COVID-19 situation and the problems it poses.

One group, Patrick Highland, Levi Kirby, Dominik Mattioli, Katharine Woodruff, and Matthew Yazvec used human-computer interaction(HCI) principles and inspiration from cognitive computing to develop a contact tracing dashboard application that could potentially integrate into MyChart, the online healthcare resource used by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The dashboard can extract data from social media, enabling users to visualize contacts based on location, number of connections and distance between the connections. Knowing who you might have potentially infected with COVID-19 and having a mechanism to identify those individuals is an imperative need at this time. You can see the prototype dashboard in action by following the link at the end of this article.

Another group, Madison Edwards, Renee Mittelberg, Brandon Murphy, and Caroline Tank created a prototype dashboard to aid in making difficult decisions of PPE allocation. PPE is a critical need currently and hospitals are being forced to ration it. This team’s prototype integrates information about each healthcare worker and their risk of developing COVID-19 and provides a color-coded visual representation of the person’s risk, facilitating the PPE allocation decision. The dashboard provides the first step towards a decision support tool for hospitals allocating their PPE rations. Future improvements to this tool would include integrating the PPE supply and demand information into the dashboard.

Priya’s third team, Thomas Burt, Eric Chun, Christopher Mitropoulos-Rundus, Emily Shull, and Jessica Shull tackled the problem of providing physical therapy from a tele-health medium. There are several challenges in providing physical therapy remotely, including accurately identifying any corrections that the patient needs to make, and providing this feedback to the patient. The team integrated the existing video capability in MyChart with 3D pose estimation techniques to provide more specific feedback. To estimate pose, joint angle calculations are performed based on patient video of the therapy session. An integrated AI agent with the potential to automatically deliver feedback to the patient and the physical therapist allows the patients to have greatly improved in-home therapy sessions and physical therapists to give more specific guidance.

All these projects have the potential to save many lives. A critical need at any time, but especially now. “The margin is now gone. Human factors engineering in healthcare creates safety, performance, and satisfaction margin which equates to lives, money, and mental and physical well-being saved. The world could really benefit from a little margin in healthcare right now.” -Patrick Highland

Contact Tracing Dashboard