Q&A: Dr. Onur Asan on Patient-Centered Healthcare

As technology advances, so does the shift toward patient-centered healthcare. Dr. Onur Asan is making sure of it.

Dr. Asan, associate professor at the School of Systems and Enterprises, approaches his research in healthcare from a socio-technical systems perspective – how are doctors, patients and technology interfacing? His latest research includes looks into real-time open electronic health record data shared between doctors and parents of children in pediatric intensive care units, how digital exchanges of health data influences patient-centered care, and a new technology concentrated on shared decision making for cancer patients.

Dr. Asan also discusses his Human Systems Interaction (HSI) lab here at the School of Systems and Enterprises. HSI is a multi-disciplinary research lab focuses on human-centered design, human factors engineering, health information technology, human-computer interaction, patient safety, and health system engineering.

What are some of the latest healthcare-related research projects you've undertaken?

One project I’m working on with the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is looking at how novel technologies implemented in pediatric ICU patient rooms can improve family empowerment, team communication, decision making and safety. We have published five journal papers from that study and the last one just came out in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, which is one of the highest-ranking journals in pediatric critical care.

If we can give families continuous access to their children’s information throughout their stay in the ICU, it can change the dynamics of communication and decision-making for their child’s treatment. Parents can be more involved and engaged in the decision-making, and they can adhere to the necessary treatment steps after being discharged.

A second part of this project is looking at implemented novel technologies and making them more patient-centered. This is an essential field within healthcare – designing human-centered technologies, which can improve the overall socio-technical systems in healthcare, as well as user experience, communication, and health outcomes.

Another project I'm working on is in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania. We are developing a shared decision-making tool for veterans who need lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is a big problem among that population due to smoking habits. We are developing a decision-making tool that can be used by both doctors and veterans together. The tool supplies information on screenings and on lung cancer, and helps doctors and veterans make the best choice for their screening decisions.

We recently got a grant from PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) to work with a veterans' group who would give us their perspective and help us understand what we need to study. The people in the group either have lung cancer or their family members had died from lung cancer. So they have the most experience. With them, we are trying to understand what to study to improve efficiency in cancer screening.

So your research is focused on moving healthcare in a more user-friendly direction?

One of the goals in healthcare as defined by the Health and Medicine Division [formerly the Institute of Medicine] right now is to shift to patient-centered healthcare from a more paternalistic model. Now with many recent developments, including precision medicine, we are moving toward patient-centered healthcare.

On the other hand, we have a lot of clinical technologies used by providers. All these technologies should be user friendly, otherwise it will create a lot of burnout in providers with the additional physical and cognitive workloads. These technologies should be designed to facilitate providers’ job, not make the job harder.

What is the biggest challenge about performing research in healthcare?

What makes healthcare unique compared to other industries is its complexity. There are many different criteria and factors when you’re working in a healthcare environment. You are dealing with human beings, and the field itself is not homogenous. It is so different from one clinic to another clinic, or one patient to another patient. Even within a hospital, different departments might have their unique conditions, and that may make things difficult to have everyone work together.

In healthcare, there is no "one size fits all" solution. When it comes to technology, we need to make everything simple. In healthcare, both the doctors and patients are dealing with a lot in their lives. You don't want to add any additional burdens to anyone. We need to have a systems approach to better understand interactions and design the systems and related technologies in a way which can facilitate providers’ jobs and lives.

What is the Human-Systems Interaction Lab, and what do you hope students gain from it?

One of the main goals of the lab is to involve the students in various healthcare research and projects. Currently, we have two undergraduate and three graduate students working on different healthcare projects. We also have students who want to pursue medical school degrees. For some projects, we go to hospitals, we go to clinics, we talk to patients and collect data. We’re observing the system. When students get that experience, they may want to pursue a healthcare degree or a job in the healthcare industry. I think the HSI lab is a great opportunity for students at Stevens who want to get some hands on experience  in healthcare field.

What sets the School of Systems and Enterprises apart from other schools in the healthcare research field?

The School of Systems and Enterprises is a unique school that brings together many different expertises to one table. At SSE, there are a lot of great researchers with strong skills from different but complementary backgrounds, and that gives us the added strength of doing collaborative and interdisciplinary research together, which is so critical in healthcare research. Here, there is a rich environment where you have access to a variety of different skills under one umbrella.