Industrial engineering students win $25k for healthcare app

Engineering students in a row.

Left to right: PhD students Dapeng Cao, Nicolette McGeorge, Theresa Guarrera, Yuan Zhou, David LaVergne, Sabrina Casucci, Judith Tiferes-Wang and Professor Li Lin.

Release Date: April 11, 2013 This content is archived.

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

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A team of University at Buffalo engineering students 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, which asked participants to develop an app which improved patient and family experiences during hospital visits.

The UB team included seven Industrial and Systems Engineering doctoral candidates 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 result in patients being readmitted for the same condition days after their initial discharge.

“This has become a very big issue for hospitals and patients,” said Sabrina Casucci, leader of the UB team, which included 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 fully participate in the discharge planning process, Casucci said. 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 said.

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

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. It earned the team a $5,000 prize. Judges congratulated the team’s “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 their success, Casucci said.

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,” 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,” said Tiferes-Wang, who plans to use some of the prize money to pay for a plane ticket to see her family in Argentina.

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

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