New WMU center aims to improve health care IT

November 21, 2010
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Western Michigan University nursing and business information technology students are joining forces to help Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo in a new interdisciplinary program.

WMU’s fledgling Center for Health Information Technology Advancement is aimed at not just providing but improving technology use for health care providers, said Professor Bernie Han, who is director of the center.

Han said that in talking with health care consultants and people involved with the state’s efforts to support health information exchanges, the role that WMU students could play becomes solidified.

The center’s focus will be on how providers use information technology and practical solutions, he said. The end results may be a new major for WMU students. The university gave its blessing to the center’s creation in May. It is expected to lead to a new major.

“We basically have a five-year plan,” Han said. One goal is to be able to fund financially independent of the university and hire a graduate student to staff the center part-time within two years.

“Our vision is to really have industry, the community, to recognize this as a value-generating center,” Han said. He said the idea for the center came from a committee member on a 12-person council of local business advisors and was encouraged by people in the health care information technology industry.

The center is meant to be a point where faculty can connect and collaborate, give students the opportunity to work on real community problems and provide value from WMU to the business community, said WMU Professor Sharie Falan. She is the center’s assistant director and an assistant professor of nursing who teaches informatics.

“We know that there have been issues in how information is exchanged between providers,” Falan said. “Many people receive care and give care without adequate information. There are some skills that are missing. As we change from paper products to electronic products, many of the people who are responsible for getting this information to and from each other may not have the skills necessary to facilitate that. Businesses need help with work force retraining.”

In a program devised by Han and Falan, a total of six undergraduate students from Han’s program and Falan’s graduate nursing students are studying workflow at Bronson to make recommendations for improvement.

The students are working on two projects, Falan said. One focuses on designing surveys to glean users’ perspectives on best practices for moving to new technology. Another is looking at collaborative technologies for governance and communication.

“We do anticipate this will be an ongoing effort that will enlarge. Our center will be focused on bringing faculty and students together with the community,” Falan said. “I’m pretty certain that in January we’ll be having the undergraduate nursing students collaborate with the undergraduate BIS students to do something in a similar way. So this a pilot project.”

The colleagues introduced the center at WMU’s annual information technology forum earlier this month, which drew nearly 300 attendees, Han said.

“The more we investigated the idea, the more we realized the opportunity and potential for wide collaboration,” he added. “This is an important initiative.”

Falan said it is “highly likely” that WMU will develop a major based on the center’s work.

“We certainly want to be able to help our community. A lot of different products can be made, but if the user can’t use them, then what’s the point? We are flipping this around. We are putting the provider and the patient at the forefront,” she said.

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