Social networking is not just about fun and games. It’s also key to patient safety and effective medical practice. No, not Facebook or Twitter, but communication among different types of medical professionals involved in getting patients quickly into care once they show up at the hospital. UF biochemistry major Anas Dalloul and colleagues in the anesthesiology department used computer software to perform a social network analysis of a hospital’s system for handling stroke patients and getting them to therapy within the critical first hours before irreparable damage occurs.
Dalloul, who is mentored by anesthesiology associate professor Steven Robicsek, M.D., Ph.D., was among more than 300 researchers who presented their work during the 2012 College of Medicine Celebration of Research at the Hilton UF Conference Center. The studies covered basic science as well as clinical and translational research.
“This session shows the size and scope of the College of Medicine research program,” said Michael L. Good, dean of the UF College of Medicine. “This type of breadth is possible only at the very best research-oriented medical schools.”
Here are some highlights from the Celebration of Research:
• With a focus on patient safety and reduction of human error, Dalloul and colleagues borrowed an analysis technique used routinely in the fields of aviation and mail delivery to identify potential weak spots that could lead to failure of an entire system. The analysis, using software developed at Carnegie Mellon University, took into account people, tasks, information and equipment. It revealed critical staff roles, which, if removed or operated poorly, increased the likelihood of a failure that could harm patients.
• Also borrowing a computing technique used in other fields, in this case law enforcement and commerce, anesthesiology chief resident David Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., used an algorithm to predict which patients with back pain would have lasting benefit from surgery and which ones would instead have a recurrence of symptoms six months after surgery. The calculation, based on raw text data from electronic medical records, made accurate predictions more than three-quarters of the time. The new calculation method did a better job at those predictions than did physicians who made recommendations based on their knowledge of a patient’s case. It also outperformed standard statistical methods. Since the calculations take only a few seconds, Edwards foresees being able to run them on applications on mobile devices or in electronic medical records systems. Such a system that aids decision-making could save on health care costs.
• David Winchester, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of medicine, worked with UF/Orlando Health partner hospitals to implement a new protocol aimed at reducing radiation exposure of patients receiving a CT scan. The researchers developed criteria that involved lowering the amount of radiation produced by reducing the voltage used to generate X-rays and reducing the length of time the X-ray beam is turned on. They were able to reduce the average radiation dose patients received up to 25 percent, showing that simple measures taken in community-based medical settings can greatly enhance patient safety.
• Neuroscientist Michael Lane, Ph.D., an assistant professor who works with Paul Reier, Ph.D., a professor and eminent scholar in the department of neuroscience, studied how the nervous system can compensate for loss of function after injury. Lane and his graduate student Lynne Mercier found that cells in the brain that normally direct breathing might change what they do after spinal cord injury. The work gives insight into the ways in which the nervous system can adapt, and could form the basis of new treatments.
• UF college senior Rachel Thome, under the mentorship of rheumatology professor Roland Staud, M.D., studied how patients who have the pain syndrome fibromyalgia see their bodies. She found that the more pain people had, the smaller they estimated the size of their hands to be. Studies such as these are exploring biological bases for a disease thought by many to be psychological.
“What’s really outstanding is the breadth of research being done here,” said Johannes W. Viewig, M.D., chairman of the department of urology. “Seeing how inspired some of these young researchers are is very encouraging for the future of our university and for medicine.”
As the science showcase keeps expanding year after year, the research programs that feed it must be nurtured by ensuring sufficient funding and resources, said Stephen Sugrue, Ph.D., senior associate dean of research affairs.
“We need to sustain our efforts and continue the growth.”