Some of the latest technology at a local university laboratory is helping Parkview Health make sure its hospital functions provide the best support possible for the work health care professionals do there.

The Fort Wayne-based regional hospital and health care system recently completed data collection it started for the project last spring. Now it plans to have Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne render a visualization of the data, making it understandable at a glance to people familiar with information analytics.

The work will be performed at IPFW’s Information Analytics and Visualization Center. Ben Aeschliman, an application software developer there, is writing programs for it. The center is directed by Beomjin Kim, the computer science professor who chairs that department for the university.

Work for the project, described on the center’s website as “Construction of Stroke Order Set Reporting System Enhanced with Visual Analytics Tools,” is funded with a $20,000 research grant from Parkview.

Parkview has always done well measuring the quality of hospital functions, but this project will make that process more efficient, said Tammy Toscos, a Parkview research scientist with an informatics doctorate from IU.

“It’s just that it’s been very labor intensive, and this system that Dr. Kim is building allows us to streamline it so that the current manpower can be allocated for other quality improvement activities,” she said.

Dr. Mark Pierce, Parkview’s chief medical information officer, predicts the process will take one-tenth of the hours it now requires, once it is automated with the center’s help.

In addition to the benefit of making the process much more efficient, partnering with the center on it is a way of supporting its ongoing operation, he said.

Community benefits

The center contributes to the community, Pierce said, both as an important research tool for organizations including employers, and by providing IPFW students with extremely valuable training with the latest informatics technology.

The hope is that some of the talent trained at IPFW will stay in the area, and its economy will benefit from the presence of those cutting-edge technical skills.

Parkview has a tradition of following the industry’s best practices for hospital functions, but today’s health care organizations are expected to prove that with data to payers and patients when they are reporting outcomes, he said.

Measuring the quality of hospital functions helps the health system as well as its patients and, if rendering a quickly understandable visualization of that can provide a better view into its everyday practices, “I think that really helps us and helps us improve,” he said.

The project is expected to last about 18 months and, based on its success, it could continue beyond that, particularly if Parkview researchers find ways to apply similar strategies to other data, Toscos said.

Center capabilities

Information visualization involves generating a graphic illustration of data clusters, anomalies and relationships for a massive amount of data.

The center is capable of applying statistical models to the data through the information analytics process, which may be able to discover previously undetected patterns in it, useful for research purposes. It has done this for some community partners conducting research.

It also has the computing power, three dimensional projector and other equipment needed for 3-D modeling and display and for the creation and use of immersive, interactive virtual reality environments.

A 9- by 13-foot screen occupying most of a wall at the center is large enough to make the virtual realities there seem lifelike. And skills developed there could be highly valuable as virtual reality gains commercial traction.

For example, Nathanial Gough, an IPFW senior, is part of a four-student team working at the center on a research project involving use of increasingly talked about virtual reality head-mounted display system, Oculus Rift.

Use of the center is not limited to IPFW’s computer science department.

“We try to develop interdisciplinary research,” Kim said. “By combining my subject area with those (disciplines) of other faculty members, I believe we can generate more synergies.”

In addition to developing as an interdisciplinary research hub at IPFW, Kim said he plans to continue meeting with employers and other organizations to find out how it can best help meet their needs.

Examples of work with other community partners includes projects where the center analyzed trail use data for Fort Wayne’s parks department and helped Raytheon Co. develop a system capable of perceiving depth more accurately, to the point of measuring distance using three dimensional images.

The center also has worked on projects for partners including Allen County Public Library, Exelis and Extension Healthcare.

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