Computer Model of Nurse Activity

MEMPHIS, TN – Researchers at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and the University of Memphis Center for Healthcare Technology have taken a lead from the military on an innovative way to explore how to boost nurse capacity and the bottom line.

The research, called “data farming,” uses computer simulation to analyze thousands of nurse workflow scenarios in hopes of finding ways to increase a nurse’s capacity to be at the bedside.

ata farming was originally used by the Marine Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va. , to improve understanding of modern combat situations, said W.Joseph Ketcherside, MD, senior vice president and chief medical informatics officer at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

Ketcherside said the healthcare organization’s data farming project, which has only just started, is relatively new for healthcare and will look at all the variable options of what a nurse does in a day to determine ways to get the best care with the least amount of resources.

By doing a sample workflow with simulated patients, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare can analyze treatment of 5,000 imaginary patients overnight and can manipulate it in all sorts of ways, rather than building it in the real world, which would take months, Ketcherside said.

Paul Cornell, director of the Center for Healthcare and Technology at the University of Memphis, said data farming should not be confused with data mining, which uses existing de-identified patient data to study marketing patterns. Rather, data farming “grows” data by running thousands of simulations on imaginary patients and imaginary scenarios to find out previously unknown options for providing care.

The center also is using data farming to look at ways to improve the physical environment to aid nurses, Cornell said. For example, if patients are grouped together and nurses have less walking to do, it can analyze how much such step-saving will affect the quality of care.

Preliminary results of data farming models have shown it may be possible to make changes that can result in shorter hospital stays, resulting in a positive effect on the bottom line, Cornell said. In addition, if changes can be made to improve a nurse’s capacity, the hospital may be able to improve retention of nursing staff and could possibly reduce nurse-to-patient ratios.

“People can make intuitive arguments that if we give them more tools they will do better, but those cost money,” Cornell said. Data farming gives hospital executives additional information for making decisions about purchasing healthcare IT and making physical changes to the hospital.

Ketcherside said the hospital and the University of Memphis Center for Healthcare Technology will publish a report on what they discover through data farming, and it plans to hold workshops for interested parties on how to do data farming.

Diana Manos, Senior Editor