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Industrial engineering students win $25,000 for health care app

  Students hospital app

Students who worked on the app are, from left, Dapeng Cao, Nicolette McGeorge, Theresa Guarrera, Yuan Zhou, David LaVergne, Sabrina Casucci and Judith Tiferes, and their faculty adviser, Li Lin.

By CORY NEALON

Published April 11, 2013

“This has become a very big issue for hospitals and patients.”
Sabrina Casucci, Leader, UB student team

A team of UB engineering students has won $25,000 for designing a mobile app that aims to reduce hospital readmission rates by ensuring that patients receive appropriate care upon being discharged.

The students took part in a contest, sponsored by GE Healthcare in partnership with Ochsner Health System, that asked participants to develop an app that improved patient and family experiences during hospital visits.

The UB team included seven doctoral candidates from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering who are studying health systems and how people interact with computers.

The students focused on readmission rates because studies show that miscommunication between hospitals, patients—especially elderly patients—and their post-hospital caregivers too often results in patients being readmitted for the same condition days after their initial discharge.

discharge roadmap app

“This has become a very big issue for hospitals and patients,” says Sabrina Casucci, leader of the UB team that includes Dapeng Cao, Theresa Guarrera, David LaVergne, Nicolette McGeorge, Judith Tiferes-Wang and Yuan Zhou.

For example, 18 percent of Medicare hospital admissions in 2008 resulted in a subsequent readmission within 30 days, costing $15 million, according to a 2008 report to Congress by the Medical Payment Advisory Commission. The report states that 80 percent of the readmissions could have been avoided with better post-discharge care.

Seeing an opportunity to reduce the readmission rate, the UB team conceived the app, called “Discharge Roadmap,” after the competition was announced in November.

The app allows patients and their caregivers to participate fully in the discharge-planning process, Casucci says. It provides a convenient and stress-free way to learn about proper health management, assess personal health care needs and communicate care preferences to hospital and community-based care providers, she explains.

The goal ultimately is to improve the hospital discharge-planning process by reducing patient readmissions, she says.

The team’s submission to the contest’s first round was selected as the first-place winner out of more than 100 entries from around the world, earning the team a $5,000 prize. Judges congratulated the team on its “strong recognition of the problem and its impact” on patients and their families.

Noting that the competition was open to professionals—not just students—the UB team was surprised and motivated to build upon its success, Casucci says.

The team refined the app for the next competition rounds, researching hospital readmissions and designing app features that could reduce the problem.

“The idea is to have an app that will improve the patient experience and, ultimately, reduce the operating costs of hospitals and insurance companies,” says Li Lin, UB professor of industrial and systems engineering, who advised the students.

Judges awarded the team second prize, which carried a $20,000 award.

“I was really surprised that we got into the finals—I wasn’t expecting that,” says Tiferes-Wang, who plans to use some of the prize money to pay for a plane ticket to see her family in Argentina.

Casucci says team members are continuing to work on the app and may attempt to commercialize it.