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An intensive care unit is not a comfortable place for patients, but it can be even more uncomfortable and unsafe because of unnecessary noise from medical devices and people. Avinash Konkani (SX 2013)* is researching how to create a better environment for hospital patients and the clinicians who provide them care.
Tell us about your educational background, including your doctoral research.
I completed my bachelor of engineering degree in biomedical engineering in 2001 in first class with distinction from Karnatak University, India. I came to the USA in 2003 and obtained my MS in biomedical engineering with emphasis on human factors engineering from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and went back to India in 2005. I worked in India from 2006 to 2010 as a biomedical engineer and assistant professor of biomedical engineering. I came back to the USA in the fall of 2010 and since then I have been a full time PhD student in systems engineering at the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. In March of 2014, I joined the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a clinical engineer. I am expecting to graduate in fall of 2014 from Oakland University.
What drew you to your field?
My zeal comes from a desire to understand the structure and working of the human body (the most complex machine on Earth) and to help alleviate human suffering. This attracted me towards biomedical engineering, an interdisciplinary field of medical science and engineering.
Tell us about something we might see in our daily lives that directly correlates to your work.
My research area is human factors in the healthcare system and it has a direct impact on patient safety and occupational safety of clinicians. There has been an increase in the noise level in intensive care units and operation rooms. Additionally, there is an increased number of false alarms—which are alarms that are clinically insignificant—from the medical devices in the ICUs. These factors have become performance obstacles for the nursing staff and they reduce patient safety. An increase in noise levels also has a deleterious effect on patients’ healing processes and physiology. It increases the duration of a patient’s stay in the hospital. I am working to find the best possible low cost methods to reduce hospital noise levels and the number of false alarms so as to provide a better healing and work environment for the patients and the clinicians.
In my current position of clinical engineer at the University of Virginia Health System, I am responsible for managing the healthcare technology. Along with working on different healthcare technology projects, I am also involved in patient safety, medical device accident/failure investigation, providing in-service teaching, and training the end users of medical devices.
What is an example of how multi-disciplinary research directly contributed to your work?
All of my educational degrees—biomedical, human factors and systems engineering—are multidisciplinary. I work in a team of professionals including nursing staff, doctors, those involved with healthcare technology management and information technology, medical device vendors, manufacturers, and hospital administrators. The problem of an increased number of false alarms from medical devices is being addressed by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s Healthcare Technology Safety Institute by forming the Clinical Alarms Steering Committee. I am one of the members of this multidisciplinary committee which has doctors, nurses, clinical engineers, medical device manufacturers, and professors/researchers. Thus for my research, I work with professionals from many fields related to healthcare.
For more information, please read my blog post: The Role of Industrial Engineers in Healthcare.
What are your thoughts on the future of STEM education?
STEM education is the key to the future of our world. We are facing many important problems to sustain life on Earth. These problems include the need to search for alternative energy for vehicles, sustaining a healthy environment, global warming, increased new diseases, etc. To solve such complex problems, we need scientist and engineers. We need to motivate the current generation and new generations to opt for STEM education and make STEM fun to learn. We need to conduct research on how to simplify and teach STEM subjects with lots of fun activities.
Describe the publishing experience—were there any bumps along the way for you?
Publication of peer-reviewed journal articles is a time consuming process and we need to have lot of patience. I have learned that we should not lose heart if an article gets rejected. Instead, take it positively, make the corrections, update your article, and send it to the next journal on your list. Before submitting the article, make sure that the objective of that journal suits the objective of the research being published. If in doubt, send the abstract to the managing editor and get an opinion. I have the experience as an author as well as a junior associate editor of IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine (JTEHM) and as a reviewer for other journals. Being on both sides, as a writer and reviewer, has helped me do my best when going through the publication process.
When you’re not working on your research, what do you do in your free time?
I spend time with my family (a wife and daughter of four-and-a-half years old) and friends. We go to parks and visit friends. I work hard to balance my professional and personal life.
What is your favorite motto?
“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”—Vernon Sanders Law
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”—Mahatma Gandhi.
What advice would you give a young researcher just starting out in your field?
Please get involved in the research work that you like, not the work someone else likes. I believe if you like the research you do then you will do great in it. Also, “Dream, dream, dream. Your dreams will transform into thoughts, thoughts lead to honest work, work will result in actions, and you will succeed.”—Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India.
What advances do you see in your field of research over the next 100 years?
There is a lot to do to enhance patient safety by applying human factors and systems engineering principles in healthcare. Nowadays, the hospitals are getting transformed into healthcare systems, which increase the complexity of the system. We need to keep things simple enough so that we can avoid errors and build a safe work environment. On other hand, many patients are getting treatment at home, so home healthcare is becoming a challenge. I can see great research work in these two sectors of healthcare.