Virginia Tech researchers maximize data security, minimize machine interactions to improve patient care
A patient is rushed into the trauma room. Health care workers are all-hands-on-deck, gearing up, sanitizing, and … logging into the electronic health system?
“Physicians spend a shockingly large portion of their days dealing with computer inputs, which diminishes their face-to-face time with patients,” said Sarah Parker, the chair of health systems and implementation science at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “For many health care providers, the unfortunate outcome of this reality is burnout.”
While medical practitioners work to save a patient’s life, they’re also responsible for a patient’s digitized information, and it’s often just too much, Parker said. She and her team are developing methods to maximize data security while minimizing machine interactions to improve patient care.
“Clinicians got into this line of work to care for patients, not to babysit technology,” Parker said.
Kickstarted with a Destination Area 2.0 grant from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost earlier this year, Parker and her collaborators are investigating how to create shared awareness between care providers and patients. Parker discussed the project at an Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology playdate last spring.
Recent additional funding from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) in Southwest Virginia expanded the project’s scope to examine how to integrate privacy and security into the flow of medical data from location to location within health care systems.
CCI is designed to enhance security through collaboration, and researchers whose work could be enhanced by a security focus can benefit from CCI’s many programs.
To identify discrepancies and vulnerabilities in medical data workflows, Parker’s team is developing a system to simulate health care environments both physically and virtually. The physical simulation resembles a hospital or primary care room, including all medical equipment and even mannequins to model health care personnel.
Not only do these systems need to be seamlessly integrated into the workflow of the hospital floor or doctor’s office, but they also need to be impeccably secure and private.
“Besides the doctors and health care workers, it’s nobody’s business what the patient is suffering from,” said Frank Della Pia, executive director of the Global Center for Automotive Performance Simulation, who is working with Parker’s team. “That information needs to be private.”
With this priority in mind, the researchers toured a medical device test bed at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) last month.
Also funded by the CCI, the test bed allows researchers to analyze the security of commercial medical equipment such as wearable devices, hospital beds, ultrasound machines, and other gear equipped with sensors.
“We could immediately see areas where the work they are doing in the VCU lab could be plugged into our investigations with data workflow,” Parker said.
With new funding from CCI and the possibility of more similar collaborations to come, Parker’s research team has the potential to greatly decrease the efficiency gaps in health care technology integration while bringing security to the forefront.
“We’re excited to explore the possibility of pooling resources and brain power,” Parker said.
Written by Julia Tubridy, a science communication intern for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative in Southwest Virginia