UCSD Researchers Develop New Medical Data Collection Tool

Researchers have created a compact data-collection tool called Lab-in-a-Box, working on an interdisciplinary project at UCSD known as QUICK, short for “Quantifying Electronic Medical Record Usability to Improve Clinical Workflow.” The project aims to collect data on interactions among physicians, their patients and their devices, then analyze that data to increase the efficiency of the time doctors spend with patients. 

According to Nadir Weibel, a research scientist specializing in human-computer interaction in the computer science and engineering department at UCSD and biomedical information and cognitive science expert on the QUICK team, the more accurate data gathered by the Lab-in-a-Box should increase the potential for improvement of doctor-patient interactions.

“Within the past, a lot of research has been based on staff surveys and forms that physicians and patients have been filling out,” Weibel said. “You know what the physician felt about, what did they think had happened — nothing about what really happened.”

Although the QUICK team is still in the data-collection stage of their project, they are beginning to analyze their data. Their first findings were recently published in the February 2015 issue of the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, as well as highlighted in New Scientist magazine. The QUICK tool outputs roughly 2 1/2 gigabytes of data during every half-hour office visit. This is due to the variety of sensors used by the device: eye tracking, screen monitoring, motion information via a Microsoft Kinect and a directional audio sensor. The software in the machine synchronizes these different data streams and analyzes the combinations of activity to determine when the physician is distracted.

The compact nature of the Lab-in-a-Box lends itself to many uses outside the medical focus of the QUICK project. 

“I think it is the essence of the name, ‘the Lab-in-a-Box,’” Weibel said. “Basically, the idea is to be able to bring the controlled experiment that you can do in a lab out in[to] the field.”

The same sensors used in the Lab-in-a-Box have been utilized in other fields already, including analyzing the behavior of pilots in the cockpit and interpreting sign language. 

The device, along with the accompanying laptop computer, costs $2,000 to $3,000. While the QUICK project is applying the Lab-in-a-Box to doctor’s offices, researchers on the project hope to apply the technology to interactions between surgeons and staff during surgeries in the operating room. 

The team still aims to make the Lab-in-a-Box more effective, allowing for more diverse uses of the technology. 

“One of the goals we have is really to make it disappear in the background,” Weibel explained. “So this could be something that could be deployed in medical offices; it could be deployed in the healthcare setting [and] later on in emergency rooms.”

Weibel stated a goal of open communication with healthcare providers and making the deployment of monitoring technologies as natural and unobtrusive as possible. He considered the privacy concerns regarding the technology part of a broader trend rather than a separate concern within patient care.

“I feel the field is changing a lot, the world is changing a lot. Everybody is getting some of their information tracked one way or the other,” he said. “So, certainly, I think this is something that will happen naturally often in hospitals and in healthcare environments.”

One of the later goals of the project is to allow real-time feedback to help doctors stay on task and listen to their patients.

The QUICK team has implemented and collected data in doctor’s offices at the VA Medical Center and is now moving Lab-in-a-Box units to offices in the UCSD Medical Center.

QUICK researchers plan to draw conclusions from the aggregate data about what behaviors and activities constitute distracted behavior and find suggestions on how the system can be improved.

“The next step is [to] really try to analyze these different activities, these different behaviors and try to understand when they happen, why they happen,” Weibel said. “And then hopefully come up with some recommendation at the end about how can we change the system.”

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