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Clarkson students conducting study at Gouverneur hospital’s ER

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GOUVERNEUR - Students from Clarkson University’s Schools of Engineering, Business, and Arts & Sciences are applying theory and practice of industrial process engineering to a study they are conducting jointly with staff of the emergency department of E. J. Noble Hospital of Gouverneur.

The study examines timing, procedures, policies, and communication surrounding patient visits to the emergency department from entry through triage to testing, diagnosis, and treatment. The study is part of ongoing efforts to improve quality and the patient experience.

“Nationally, quality in emergency medicine is defined by time-to-treatment, coupled with the outcomes of treatment,” said Jennifer Sharpe, RN, clinical nurse manager of the emergency department at the Gouverneur hospital. “We are experts in clinical care, and we can learn a lot from industrial process engineering about how long it should take to get from one part of a process to another,” she said.

“Process redesign uses qualitative and quantitative data to examine all aspects of what it takes to get to a desired outcome,” said Elizabeth A. Parker, an undergraduate student who is in her final year of a chemical engineering degree, with a minor in Biomedical Engineering. “Our Clarkson experience has given us the background necessary for gathering data, analyzing data, and applying what we’ve learned to real-world situations,” she said.

“Staff members have provided their expertise in patient care, patient privacy and confidentiality, national and state quality standards, as well as regulations that govern the healthcare world,” said Venkatasuresh “Venkat” Pallapolu, a graduate student completing the first year of a master’s degree in electrical engineering after completing a master’s degree in mathematics at Clarkson.

“It’s been an eye-opener, in the sense that I don’t think most people are aware of how much coordination and teamwork go into getting someone through emergency treatment to where they are either referred elsewhere or are able to return home,” said Pallapolu. “It’s really complicated to ensure that people get the care they need in a timely manner,” he added.

“We’re getting great exposure to what healthcare is all about, and EJN is learning about best practices in industry,” added Parker. “Ultimately, it will be a win-win for patients,” she said.

Seven students are participating in the project. In addition to Parker and Pallapolu, they are Nicole L. Besancon, who is completing her MBA following a master’s degree from Clarkson in mechanical engineering; Stephen W. Hefferle and Fangyao Quan, both MBA students in the second semester of a two-year program; Nikola J. Wolfe, an undergraduate student in her senior year of biomolecular science and pre-physical therapy; and Yutung Zhang, an MBA student focusing on accounting.

The project was the brainchild of Charles J. Robinson, DSc, PE, the Herman L. Schulman Endowed Professor and Chair of the Rehabilitation Engineering Program at Clarkson University and David B. Acker, FACHE, president and CEO of Canton-Potsdam Hospital. Robinson was one of the faculty advisors who led a team of students when they analyzed and helped improve CPH’s emergency department in 2007.

Dr. Robinson serves as the principal faculty advisor of the student team, and has guided the study design. Students are expected to complete a report with recommended steps that can be implemented by emergency department staff, as well as recommended metrics and benchmarks for ongoing management and improvement of patient care and the patient experience. Dr. Robinson is being assisted by staff of Canton-Potsdam Hospital’s emergency medicine, patient experience, and quality assurance departments, and his collaborator on this project, Boris Jukic, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at Clarkson’s School of Business.

The hospital also assists with other Clarkson University clinical experience and research projects as part of its ongoing academic collaborations with several area colleges.

As Professor Robinson pointed out, “It’s our goal to help the good people at EJN Hospital make their facility a better and more efficient place, so that its town and its surroundings will continue to embrace their hospital as a vital community resource.”

Parker, a native of St. Regis Falls, noted that she has enjoyed working on a project that will improve the lives of area residents. Other students said it has broadened their concepts of process redesign and given them valuable experience.

“Compared to other industrial and organizational settings for studies of process redesign, emergency medicine is really high-stakes in the sense that you can achieve profound and lasting benefits when people have access to the highest quality care,” said Pallapolu. “It’s really fulfilling to be working on something that makes a difference for a whole community,” he added.

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