December 06, 2013

Emergency department caregivers at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center are tracked with location-system badges for Mihai Banciu and Priyantha Devapriya's study.

By Matt Hughes

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell researchers are partnering with colleagues from Geisinger Health System to improve health care and public health through seven research projects.

The studies are funded through the Bucknell Geisinger Research Initiative, which aims to promote opportunities for researchers from the two institutions to join forces in investigating, teaching and applying for major research grants.

"This partnership provides us the opportunity to interact with exceedingly gifted students who bring a fresh perspective to our research challenges, as well as access to Bucknell faculty expertise in a variety of science and engineering fields relevant to modern health and health care research," said David Ledbetter, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Geisinger Health System. "In addition, it serves as an opportunity for Geisinger to contribute to the training of Bucknell students who not only want to do great clinical and scientific research but also those who want to work in related fields."

In this, the second phase of funding, Geisinger and Bucknell have contributed more than $430,000 to fund the seven projects over two years.

One of the projects — which partners School of Management Professor Mihai Banciu, operations and decision sciences, with Geisinger Manager of Analytics and Operations Research Priyantha Devapriya and a student researcher — aims to reduce emergency department wait time with the ultimate goals of improving patient care and saving lives.

Geisinger and other health care providers have developed detailed simulations to model the flow of patients and caregivers through hospitals, Devapriya said, but they lack data about how long doctors and nurses spend with emergency department patients. When a trauma victim is rushed to an emergency room, he explained, doctors and other caregivers begin treatment immediately, rather than logging onto the in-room computer first, so it's impossible to tell after the fact how long a given patient's treatment lasted.

For Devapriya and Banciu's study, emergency department doctors, other caregivers and patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center will wear badges containing real-time location system tags, allowing the researchers to track how long each caregiver spends with each patient. They will then cross-reference that data with patient medical records to determine the average time it takes for caregivers to treat a given condition, with an ultimate goal of ensuring hospital emergency departments are properly staffed to minimize patient wait times.

"Our goal is to provide patients the right care at the right time," Devapriya said. "We don't want them to wait."

Some emergency department doctors have already begun wearing the tracking devices, and patients will be tagged once the study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board, an oversight committee that determines whether biomedical research is ethical and complies with patient privacy protections. Banciu said he hopes the study can improve care not only at Geisinger, but at other hospitals around the country.

"If we can develop a methodology to aggregate into a coherent score all of these efficiency metrics we're trying to improve, then what you have at the end of the day is a set of best practices," Banciu said. "So other hospitals could benefit by implementing the same measures."

Public health is also the focus of a study pairing Amy Wolaver, professor of economics and director of the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy, with Research Investigator Jove Graham of the Geisinger Center for Health Research. The researchers are exploring whether unconventional natural gas extraction — often referred to as fracking — from the Marcellus Shale formation beneath Pennsylvania has led to increases in traffic accidents and mental-health diagnoses in areas where drilling is widespread.

"A lot of focus has been put on the chemicals associated with the fracking process," Wolaver said. "Folks are very concerned about water quality, but this is a niche that hasn't been explored as much."

The researchers are examining aggregate health data from Geisinger records as well as statewide inpatient hospital records to see if patterns emerge.

"We're using this as an exercise to see how good medical claims data will be examining these kinds of questions," Wolaver said. "That's a bit of an academic question, but if we find out that medical claims data are adequate, then that opens up additional ways of examining evidence about drilling and other changes occurring regionally."

Wolaver and Graham employed a Bucknell undergraduate researcher to assist the project during the summer, and plan to hire another in the spring semester.

"Helping students ask the right questions and utilize data to measure outcomes is the rewarding part of this project," Graham said. "We believe there are many opportunities for other Bucknell departments to engage in this collaboration."

To view the full list of projects the Bucknell-Geisinger partnership is funding, click here.

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