young woman helping older woman with exercise

Engineers and Health Care Researchers Get Together

KCH E-News May 2022

Dr. Kim Graber, William Chittenden, Dr. Wendy Rogers

KCH department head Dr. Kim Graber, Bill Chittenden III, KCH professor Dr. Wendy Rogers

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo, Media Relations/Editorial Specialist, College of Applied Health Sciences

The focus of the Chittenden Symposium, held on April 13, was on human factors in health technology, with the goal of advancing a research agenda. But according to Kinesiology and Community Health Professor Wendy Rogers, the roadmap needs to first be drawn..

The symposium is a collaboration between the College of Applied Health Sciences’ Department of Kinesiology & Community Health (KCH) and the Grainger College of Engineering’s Department of Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE). Rogers was part of a panel discussion—along with ISE Associate Professor Girish Krishnan—entitled, “Future Directions for Collaborative Opportunities.”

“What we’re talking about is relevant to what the National Academy of Engineering has proposed in terms of grand challenges,” Rogers said. “We need to have these opportunities (future symposiums) to see what each of us is doing and how we can work together.”
Rogers also talked about the need to match up research priorities with funding streams.

“Some of the things that the (National Institutes of Health) is highlighting is what we are doing here,” the Khan Professor of Applied Health Sciences said. “We want to think about how best to capitalize on our strengths to best match what their priorities are. I was excited and inspired about what we can do.”

The symposium is the vision of William and Carol Chittenden, two Illinois alums who long supported research combining Health/Kinesiology and engineering technology, including aging and later-year quality of life issues. The symposium, which began in 2015, returned this year after a five-year hiatus.

Susan Martinis, the Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation, was the first speaker of the day and said she couldn’t “imagine a timelier topic” and that the university’s response to COVID-19 was an “extraordinary national model.”

“This kind of innovation just doesn’t happen,” she said. “Our response to COVID is really part of the DNA at Illinois. Decades of investments in people and symposiums like this. The spirit of collaboration can tackle the most vexing of problems. Our bench is incredibly deep.”
AHS Dean Cheryl Hanley-Maxwell said she was “proud of the role the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health has played in organizing this important event, and grateful for our ongoing partnership with the Grainger College of Engineering.”

“The collaboration between health and engineering has led to developments that we couldn’t have imagined in the not-too-distant past,” Hanley-Maxwell said. “Virtual reality as a means of helping patients manage pain; companion robots that entertain chronically ill children while allowing them to monitor their condition; 3-D printing of personalized prosthetics; and wearable sensors that enable patients to share vital health statistics with their doctors from the comfort of their own homes. Technology is revolutionizing and improving health care, and the potential for its impact seems boundless.”

Hanley-Maxwell noted that AHS made a commitment to taking a leadership role in education and research related to health care and technology.

“I hope today’s symposium inspires further discussion, collaboration, and innovation,” she said.

Keynote speaker Emily Patterson, a professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Medicine at Ohio State, talked about the need to incorporate human factors into health research, and the importance of “framing problems differently.”
Patterson was followed by four presentations, two each from ISE and KCH.

ISE Assistant Professor Abigail Wooldridge discussed the importance of health technology in improving the “handover,” meaning the transition of patient care, whether it is in the same hospital and different shifts, or to a different hospital and medical staff.

“Care transitions are a process, and the things that happen before or after that are really important. They are really crucial to patient care.”
Wooldridge said strategies are needed to augment human coding to improve care transitions and the “tension between reporting and interrogation. Social glue is what helps clinicians work together down the road.”

KCH Assistant Professor Manuel Hernandez talked about advances in wearable technology to prevent fall prevention, noting that one in four adults over the age of 65 falls each year, and that one in five falls lead to serious injury.

“In the near future, wrist bands, watches, shoes and shirts will be able to measure how much we move on a daily basis,” Hernandez said. He said this wearable technology will be able to detect any changes in movement, slowing, or gait malfunction. The use of wearable technology can mitigate or even prevent the odds of falling and reduce injuries, Hernandez said.

ISE Specialized Teaching Assistant Professor Avinash Gupta talked about the role of human interaction in designing virtual reality-based healthcare training. Among Gupta’s proposals is a virtual reality-based training environment for first responders, a 3D educational platform for healthcare students and a VR simulation training for neonatal procedures.

KCH Professor Ken Wilund wrapped up the presentations with his talk on how technology can be used to improve hemodialysis patient outcomes.

“Hemodialysis is pretty brutal,” Wilund said. “It’s a difficult, challenging life, and it’s treated pharmacologically, with 18 pills a day. It’s one of the most expensive diseases to treat. It costs about $100,000 per patient per year … pretty close to one percent of the federal budget is spent on dialysis patients.”

Wilund said his biggest questions were how to get hemodialysis (HD) patients moving more and make it sustainable, and how to get HD patients to eat fewer processed foods and less salt. Technological advances might help, Wilund said, noting that an Internet-based Positive Psych Intervention (PPI) reduced depression in HD patients, but that the iPad might not be a sustainable delivery method.

Wilund acknowledged that a personalized plan for patients was necessary, that behavior change principles need to be incorporated into treatment, and that remote treatment would be necessary to achieve long-term success. “We have been sticking bikes in front of dialysis patients and telling them what they can’t eat… for 40 years,” Wilund said. “There has to be a better way.”

Following the presentations, Rogers and Krishnan engaged in a lively discussion with audience members on what can be done to advance collaborations and build on the momentum of the symposium. “Seminars are great, but how do we scale this up?,” Krishnan asked. “What’s the best mechanism to get the engineers and health care researchers together?” Rogers added, “It’s really going back and forth and making sure we’re talking to each other. We’ve talked about how to do that better to provide opportunities for both colleges.”

KCH Professor Jeff Woods, who was the master of ceremonies, suggested leveraging virtual platforms to increase collaboration, while Wilund said giving increased responsibilities to graduate students would give them more opportunities to build their CV, while giving faculty members the space for big-picture ideas.

But all in attendance agreed on one point: they need to keep in contact. “A future meeting to spark collaborations is important,” Rogers added.

When the symposium ended, attendees—including Bill Chittenden III, son of Bill and Carol—boarded vans for the opportunity to tour the McKechnie Family LIFE Home and see demonstrations of current collaborative research in human factors and health. Directed by Dr. Rogers, the McKechnie Family LIFE Home includes a simulation of a two-bedroom home with a garage for research and development, as well as meeting and office space to support the research activities.