From Health Innovation to Actual Implementation

Four undergraduates continue to pursue collaborative research project two years after an inspiring course

A few days after learning that Duke students would not be returning to campus after spring break, due to the university’s response to COVID-19, Sahil Sandhu ’20 spied a bright spot in his inbox. He and three fellow students were invited to present their work at the 2020 AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting.

“Perspectives on Integrating Electronic Patient-Reported Outcomes into Clinical Oncology Workflows: A Qualitative Study” was accepted for a poster presentation. The conference is currently scheduled for June.

The student researchers—Sandhu, Zoe King ’21, Michelle Wong ’20 and Sean Bissell ’19—had been motivated to keep working on a collaborative project they began in a Spring 2018 course, continuing through independent studies.

The research study involved in-person interviews with 16 oncologists representing diverse subspecialties and cancer types. “Understanding oncologists’ perspectives is essential in informing both practice-level efforts to integrate ePRO [electronic patient-reported outcomes] into clinical workflows and policy-level decisions to include ePROs in alternative payment models for cancer care,” the students wrote in their abstract.

All study participants identified potential benefits from incorporating ePROs into patient care, as well as several barriers to implementation and uptake. The findings can guide strategies to improve provider buy-in, select ePRO tools and optimize workflow integration, data visualization and documentation features.

Evaluating Healthcare Innovation

“This conference presentation, and the associated manuscript in the works, came from the Social Science Research Lab Evaluating Healthcare Innovation course,” said instructor Jessica Sperling, who leads evaluation and engagement at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). “The undergraduate student team members have been driving much of the recent writing and will be authors and presenters.”

Launched in 2018, the Social Science Research Lab engages undergraduates in project-based learning about social science methods and their application to real-world challenges.

Sperling taught the course with Will Ellaissi of the Duke Institute for Health Innovation (DIHI). Students began by learning about topical issues related to healthcare administration and innovation, engaging with Duke Health guest speakers and exploring techniques and practices in research and evaluation. Next, students worked in small teams to develop research and evaluation proposals for three DIHI projects: predicting cardiogenic shock; utilizing patient-reported outcomes; and addressing provider burnout.

Bissell, King, Sandhu and Wong continued to work with DIHI, after the course ended, to implement their evaluation plan in collaboration with Thomas LeBlanc, associate professor of medicine.

“The project was focused on the implementation of a patient-reported outcomes questionnaire into the electronic health record in the Duke Cancer Institute,” King wrote. She noted that the course inspired her to design her own major called Implementing Healthcare Innovation.

Like King, Sandhu and Wong also created self-designed majors through Duke’s Program II. Sandhu pointed out, “It’s cool that Program II students interested in combining methods and topics from different disciplines would come together for this project that is at the intersection of social science and medicine!”

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