UAH-developed software can improve health care quality, timeliness


Decision Innovations principals, standing from left: Dr. Fan Tseng, Dr. Faye
Anderson and Dr. Karen Frith. Seated is Greg Reed. Not pictured is Mikel Petty.

Decision Innovations is a health-information, decision technology company that integrates real time organizational data with research in order to improve quality, patient satisfaction, and financial outcomes of hospitals.

Anderson says nursing managers are faced with tough decisions every day when it comes to balancing optimal care for patients with positive results for the hospital. It's not as easy as one might think.

That's what prompted Anderson and Frith, faculty from the College of Nursing, to look for an innovative way to help nursing managers make the best decisions possible.

It began in 2008 as a research project in partnership with the Catholic Health Initiative (CHI) hospital system. The research explores the relationship between nursing staffing levels and patient outcomes, as well as organizational outcomes.

"We conducted a pilot study and found that registered nurse staffing levels had an impact on patient outcomes, mortality rate and length of stay," Anderson says. "That led our research team at the university to think about how we might make the project more meaningful beyond research. We wanted to develop a way for the research findings to be used in daily decision-making."

That prompted a more extensive research study.

"We were using data from CHI's hospitals across the nation," Anderson says. "That meant we could run high level statistical analysis of how nursing staffing levels impact overall patient outcomes."

The research team kept refining its research. And then refined it some more.

By that time, Anderson and Frith had enlisted the help of Fan Tseng, from the university's College of Business. They brainstormed about how to make the data more meaningful so that nursing managers could actually apply the research to make staffing decisions. A unique software solution was in order.

They took the concept to Mikel Petty for input. Petty is the director of the Center for Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis, and he enlisted the help of Greg Reed, a Ph.D. candidate and research scientist, who started work on the Nursing Dashboard – the product of Decision Innovations. Anderson says it is decision-making software that integrates real-time hospital data with the research-developed predictive equations to assist nursing managers make the best staffing decisions.

"Real-time data are fed into our software, including how many patients, their ages, diagnoses, and a severity code related to the patient's diagnoses," Anderson says.

Information about the staff is also fed into the software and run through the equations based on the team's research to indicate to the manager the probability of a patient or organizational outcome. The outcomes could include a longer length of stay for patients, financial impact to the hospital, the potential higher rate of mortality, the risks for falls or the development of other possible adverse events – based on the staffing.

"It doesn't tell the manager how to staff, but identifies how changes in the staffing levels might achieve better outcomes," Anderson says.

Another example, she says, is if a manager wants to know if it's better to staff with three RNs rather than two RNs, and one assistive person for the current patient mix. The Dashboard has a scenario mode in which the manager can input the data of three RNs and get predictive outcomes to indicate whether the change in staffing is recommended.

"It's somewhat like predicting the weather," Anderson says. "It's looking to the future, not the past and whether you have a greater chance of getting an outcome that you really don't want."

Anderson says it is way to help the manager make decisions, not to replace the critical thinking of a manager. The Nursing Dashboard gives them another tool they can use.

"Every nursing manager we've talked to about the Dashboard has responded to it positively," Anderson says. She and Frith used their combined experiences as first line managerial and executive level decision makers as part of program's development.

"We understand the challenges in making decisions about staffing," Anderson says. "You always want to have the right staff and the right skill mix to promote the very best possible outcomes for patients. At the same time, you don't want to waste resources because it's expensive, and hospitals today, more than ever, are challenged to use their resources wisely."

Since winning the Launchpad competition earlier this year, Anderson says their research partner, CHI, has embraced the concept and is now pilot testing the dashboard program at one of its hospitals in Little Rock.

"We've just installed it and are still working out the challenges of getting all the necessary data components feeding into the Dashboard correctly. The pilot is scheduled to be complete in three months and we'll get feedback on its effectiveness," Anderson says. "We've already had a lot of good feedback, but we're looking forward to seeing how it works for them over time."

Anderson says it has been a rewarding process, with tremendous efforts from the College of Business Administration and the College of Nursing working together to address an issue that is definitely crucial to furthering the quality and timeliness of health care.

"It has been a team effort from the beginning," Anderson says. "We've had support form our deans and the Office of Research. We really appreciate the efforts of everyone who played a role and supported us through the process."

Anderson says winning the competition was an amazing experience. It wasn't a lightweight competition either.

Second place went to Iolitec, Inc., from the University of Alabama, a specialty chemical company that will develop and distribute solutions of nanoparticles that provide safer and easier handling options. Third place went to IPD Foam from Auburn University, a company seeking to commercialize a unique proprietary metal foam developed at Auburn University. The material has applications in submarine structures (private and government), sports, aerospace, and any lightweight metal applications.

Now, it's time for the team to get the company up and going.

"We're refining our business plan, product and future goals," Anderson says. "The next steps we need to take are to strengthen our fledgling company so we can really move forward in making a difference in healthcare."

For more information,

contact Ray Garner




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