Improving Workflow in an Intensive Care Unit

September 09, 2020

Portrait of Jung Kim

IMSE assistant professor Jung Hyup Kim

A hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) can be a very busy place. Time is of the essence when treating patients, yet time is a limited commodity for ICU nurses. They treat patients, fill out paperwork, talk with patients’ families and much more every day.

But time spent not treating patients hinders patient care. And in an ICU, patient care is critical.

Jung Hyup Kim, associate professor in Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, is investigating how to help nurses spend more time with patients who need extra care, especially in a hectic ICU environment.

“In our research, we want to help nurses by using a real-time locating system (RTLS) in how the nurses are doing their work in an ICU,” Kim said.

An RTLS analysis should let Kim learn how nurses participating in the study move around their ICU. In addition, they will learn how much time nurses are in a patient’s room, and learn a nurse’s work sequence. This data should tell Kim how a nurse’s workflow could be improved. To capture this information, the research team will rely on an indoor GPS system. This system has been used at nuclear power plants and by the military. Manual observations are also being used to collect additional data points.

“Manual observations help us explain why the nurse may have been in a particular room for an extended period of time on a particular day,” Kim said. The GPS device does not give a reason why a nurse may be in one area for an extended period of time; just the amount of time spent in one area.

Comparing Collected Data

The primary comparison for this data is to determine a nurse’s activity compared to patients’ sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) scores.

“We want to find the correlation between the time nurses spend in a patient’s room compared to the patient’s SOFA score. If the SOFA score is higher, the patient is sicker,” Kim said. “If we can collect more accurate data, we could be able to determine a proper range of time needed to be spent with patients comparatively to their SOFA score.”

The data collected from the workflow of the ICU nurses will be analyzed. So this could help determine why patient care was delayed or missed. Research results could find opportunities to enhance workflow management design and reduce the total workload for ICU nurses. As a result, this would allow nurses to spend more time with patients.

Kim is the co-primary investigator with Dr. Laurel Despins in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. Data will be collected through December and is projected to be reviewed and completed by March 2021. Data is currently being collected at the intensive care unit of University Hospital on the University of Missouri campus. The National Institutes of Health provided funding for this research project.