Engineers get patients and health care workers to communicate better

In a short space of time, a group of engineering students at Aarhus University created a new IT system for the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of Western Denmark. This raises the level of communication between health care workers, patients and relatives.

2017.09.11 | Jesper Bruun

Photos: Agata Ewa Lenczewska-Madsen

In their Bachelor’s project, three young engineering students in Aarhus pushed the limits of how health care workers, patients and relatives talk to each other. It took them only four months to develop an IT system that is free, handicap-friendly, flexible, and user-friendly in other ways – a brilliant supplement to existing systems.

“We found a specific need to develop a clinical measurement tool at the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of Western Denmark (VCR). A tool that uses simple instruments and intuitive features to help VCR carry out investigations for the benefit of patients and relatives,” says 29-year-old Melissa Døssing Christensen, who has just graduated from Aarhus University with a Bachelor of Engineering in Healthcare Technology.

Clinical process measurement has a direct correlation with patient experience because the investigations should actually help patients to become familiar with their diagnosis and illness, and to be prepared for any periods of treatment and rehabilitation. In this way, the system is intended to support the aim of providing individually planned patient care, with a focus on the patient’s needs, requests and preferences.

The three students – Melissa, Anne and Mads – therefore customised their own system in close collaboration with the Research and Development Unit at VCR. The system is called FlexProcess, and it has proved to be so appropriate, simple and efficient that the hospital centre has accepted it enthusiastically.

“It’s incredibly important during a period of rehabilitation that communication takes place on the patient’s terms. Our system was developed in close collaboration with the health care professionals at VCR, and it was important for us to design a system that could be taken into use immediately, and which would not be regarded as a burden. We regularly tested the system on patients and relatives to ensure that people with different impairments can also use it,” explains Anne Dunker, who – just like Melissa – graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in Healthcare Technology.

The system is already being used at the hospital centre.

“We’ve got a finished product, which we plan to extend even more from August. The whole process has been a fantastic collaboration, characterised by dedicated students, and we’re very interested in other similar project collaborations with Aarhus University students in the future,” says Senior Consultant Neurologist Helge Kasch, Director of the Research and Development Unit at the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of Western Denmark.

“We’re very interested in measuring and weighing what we do, so we can be better at it and thus make the right decisions,” he continues.

The health services are often criticised for inadequate communication between doctors, care givers, patients and relatives. However, this project clearly shows that the will is there. The project has also been of enormous value for the students.

“In our studies, we learn everything from the technical development of hardware and software to pedagogical, sociological and communicative theories. The collaboration in this Bachelor’s project with patients, research staff and health care professionals demonstrated that all these skills make sense and are absolutely applicable if you want to develop technology that really makes a difference. This might sound like a cliché, but being able to combine technical knowledge with social intelligence is a major force in health and welfare technology” says Melissa Døssing Christensen.

The collaboration with the engineering students Melissa, Anne and Mads was the first of its kind for the hospital centre, but it will not be the last. Four new groups of engineering students are thus beginning at VCR next semester with their final projects. And this is a pure win-win situation, according to Anne Dunker.

“It’s been really great making a definite product that’s not just a prototype. Looking back and seeing that the product is actually being used is the coolest feeling in the world. We’ve learned an incredible amount because we were out working with precisely the right people. Real patients and real staff, all of whom backed us up about our project,” she says.

Helge Kasch also gives his support.

“The students who came out here are very talented, and we’ve been very impressed by this project. It’s really opened doors for us as well. We’re therefore very interested in future collaborations with the engineering degree programmes in Aarhus,” he says.

The three students – Melissa, Anne and Mads – completed their exams in great style. They all graduated with high marks in their Bachelor’s project. Melissa now has a job at Itpilot – an IT and Web agency in Viborg, and Anne continued directly after her studies as a temporary worker at Teknologi i Praksis (Technology in Practice) – a social economy business in Aarhus. Mads graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in Information Technology, and he is currently looking for a job.

For more information, please contact
Anne Dunker Lauritsen
+45 2197 7743
annedunker@gmail.com

About the degree programmes


Meet other students who also studied Healthcare Technology at Aarhus University (in Danish only):

AU Engineering