How Johns Hopkins is using Systems Engineering to fix Health Care

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Johns Hopkins researchers experienced how powerful systems engineering can be when they set out to improve patient safety and quality of care in intensive care units. Patient safety researchers and clinicians from Johns Hopkins Medicine partnered with the systems engineers and systems integrators of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). For 75 years APL has supported the Department of Defense and other government agencies as a “trusted agent” to solve critical challenges, such as building satellites and weapons systems on ships.

“The APL team guided patients, family members, clinicians, and researchers from nearly 20 medical disciplines through an exhaustive process of defining our goals, understanding our priorities, listing the functions that the system must perform, and determining measures of success.” 

These discussions led the team to set the goal of reducing seven of the most common and serious preventable harms facing ICU patients. They included five clinical harms, such as hospital-acquired infections and complications, as well as two “social harms,” lack of respect and misalignment of care with the patient’s goals.

Healthcare Systems Engineering

Healthcare Systems Engineering

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team came up with a solution known as ‘Project Emerge‘, a healthcare systems engineering that integrates data from several sources into one easy-to-read computer display. It combined data from existing technologies, such as the electronic patient record, with new ones, such as sensors that track patient activity or the angle of a bed. In the same way that pilots get all essential information in cockpit displays, Emerge lets clinicians quickly see if patients are getting all the care necessary to prevent the seven harms. A second computer display helps patients and families engage with their care team and take a more active role in their care.

The project was funded by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which required ensure that we demonstrated results.

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