Students present research at international conference

Contact: Stacey Markin

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Undergraduate students Blake Tindol and Brandon Buxton recently got the rare experience of presenting research at the Conference on Health IT and Analytics in Washington, D.C. The annual research summit gathers prominent scholars from more than 40 research institutes, as well as leading policy makers and practitioners. Tindol and Buxton presented research they collaborated on with Dr. Utkarsh Shrivastava, assistant professor of business information systems.

“Both Blake and Brandon started working with me on separate projects at the beginning of the summer of 2019,” says Shrivastava. “They were self-motivated and more than willing to explore their ideas through academic research. Their hard work paid off at the conference where their presentations were very well received. In a conference typically frequented by graduate students from Ivy League schools, the understanding and training of our undergraduate students impressed everyone. Experiences like this play an important role in instilling confidence in our students and shaping their careers.”

Making sure that students have every career-building experience possible is what drives Dr. Mike Tarn, chair of the Department of Business Information Systems. “Scientific discovery is at the core of learning, and a global platform like CHITA provides a forum for ideas that lead to future innovations. As a department, we do our best to connect students’ interests with our faculty expertise to nurture nascent ideas. With the support of our dean, we make sure that students do not miss out on any opportunity for professional advancement for any reason. We are fortunate to have faculty members with a diverse range of research interests who are more than happy to support students in their initiatives.”

The students’ travel to the conference was completely subsidized by donors to the dean’s discretionary fund and the Department of Business Information Systems.

The projects

Photo of Blake Tindol

Blake Tindol

Tindol’s presentation was titled, “The dynamics of real-time online information and disease progression: Understanding spatial heterogeneity in the relationship.”

The presentation focused on predicting the re-emergence of infectious diseases such as salmonella and chlamydia and the logistical challenges for state authorities in curbing their spread. Tindol and Shrivastava argue that a combination of real-time surveillance of infectious diseases as well as monitoring online searches related to these diseases is important when determining if an epidemic is imminent. Outbreak of an infectious disease creates panic in the community and is accompanied by a sudden increase in the online interest in the disease and its symptoms. Prior studies have found a strong relationship between web searches and disease outbreak but not all aspects of the relationship have been investigated yet.

The research studied the relationship between online searches about a disease and its outbreak, investigating whether this relationship could be influenced by regional factors such as Medicare costs and coverage. The study analyzed weekly online search dynamics for five infectious diseases over a period of three years across all 50 states.

The team controlled for several factors, including weather, demographics and travel, and used hierarchical functional data models to test for a relationship between a disease’s progression and its online searches. They found that regions where Medicare costs are higher have a stronger association between online research about a disease and its progression. Using the proposed modeling framework, a 22% improvement in the prediction of a disease outbreak can be achieved. The findings suggest potential for developing a multifaceted system for real-time surveillance of disease outbreak in United States is advisable.

“The ability to speak with some of the leading thinkers in the health and information technology field was a phenomenal experience,” says Tindol. “The other researchers and professors gave insightful feedback on my research, which inspired me to pursue more research and possibly consider a Ph.D. I hope to be able present additional research before graduating. I appreciate that WMU funded this trip, which has meant a great deal to my professional development.”

Photo of Brandon Buxton

Brandon Buxton

Buxton’s presentation was titled, “Hospital workflow and patient care implications of medical device and EMR integration.”

The manual transcription of patients’ vital signs often delays entry of critical information to electronic medical record systems. This documentation delay within inpatient settings results in a lack of recent information on patient condition, decreased ability for providers to make clinical decisions and an increased risk of data error.

To alleviate these concerns, hospitals are adopting device interface systems which digitally integrate medical devices and EMRs. Prior studies have found that this type of system integration can potentially reduce the time spent on manual entry of information in the EMR and support other value-added activities in the hospital. However, these studies suffered from intervention bias. In this study, a natural experiment setting was used to understand how the implementation of a device interface system impacted hospital workflows and patient care in a regional hospital.

The investigation focuses on two areas. First, the research team examined if the new system influenced documentation delays and whether the impact was similar for different employee roles. Second, the team studied the effect of interface system implementation on downstream patient care activities. The team analyzed data on documentation delays across more than 5,000 patients and 330,000 documentation events for one week before and after system implementation and found that the average documentation delay decreased by 18 minutes and alerts regarding critical patient condition were delivered an average of 30 minutes faster. The findings from this research will inform hospitals of the benefits and the requirements for successful integration of medical devices and EMR systems, as well as the impact on activities dependent on accurate and timely vital signs documentation.

 “Exposure to an academic research environment, gaining familiarity with current research, and making connections with researchers from institutions throughout the world were some of the key benefits from this experience,” says Buxton. “Representing WMU at this event was a great honor. We were the only undergraduate students at the conference, which was noted by many attendees, including in the final session, where WMU was recognized for having young and passionate researchers.”

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