Grad students help to bring AI into nursing care
May 25, 2022
HALIFAX – Students from Dalhousie University and the University of New Brunswick are helping to develop and refine technology that enhances the ability to provide evidence-based care solutions for seniors in long-term care. Their work is part of an initiative by Shannex, a Halifax-based provider of home care, retirement living, assisted living, memory care and long-term care services in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario.
Through the organization’s newly created Insights Lab, the goal is to collect and analyze clinical data to make strategic and operational nursing care decisions.
Shannex partnered with Mitacs – a national innovation organization that helps solve business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions – to hire students as interns, allowing the organization to tap into specialized skill sets as they began work on piloting an innovative ‘anywhere’ call-bell technology.
The solution is able to follow the movement and activities of residents in real time through information sent from wristbands or pendants.
This cutting-edge technology has the potential to improve outcomes for residents at three Shannex nursing homes where it is currently being used. The devices are worn by all residents, visitors, and staff so their location can be pinpointed when a call button is pushed. Shannex is also exploring functionality that notifies staff when a resident’s activity patterns are altered, which could indicate a health change or other risks.
“We thought, ‘What would happen if we brought this rich data source in-house, paired it with data from our electronic health records, and then applied machine learning to predict harmful or unsafe behaviours and events before they occur?’” explained Vicki Muscat, who leads the Insights Lab.
“We have a vision of how we want to use our data, but we needed support from individuals with special skillsets to determine the optimal path,” she added, noting that the ability to engage highly trained, post-secondary interns through Mitacs gives her the flexibility to explore project needs in a very cost-effective and strategic manner.
The first Mitacs interns hired by the lab were Dalhousie University Master of Health Administration students Robyn Slater and Priya Damodaran. The two helped to develop standard operating procedures for how sites can optimally leverage these wearable devices to best support both staff and residents.
Their work was a necessary first step in the company’s data analysis journey, to ensure the call-bell devices were being used in a standardized fashion across all pilot sites, ultimately leading to the best form of data collection on the backend. It is now forming the basis for a comprehensive user manual.
“The students’ contribution was invaluable because they wrapped their arms around all of the complex details, helping us to understand what needed to change within our processes to drive care improvements and quality data collection, and freeing up my time to focus on the next phase of our journey, which is the development of our internal data warehouse,” said Muscat.
To assist in that phase, the Insights Lab recently brought on Mitacs intern Nasrin Ivari, a University of New Brunswick Master of Science in Geomatics graduate specializing in data science. Ivari is working remotely from Fredericton to clean the data generated by the technology, bring it into the company’s newly built Google data storage system, and ready it for machine learning and analysis.
The goal is to identify and map behavioural patterns for each resident so that breaks in routine can be recognized. These insights will make it possible to anticipate care solutions.
“We’re making the data reliable so that it can be trusted in decision making,” said Ivari, explaining that the objective of her work is to build a streaming data pipeline that continually monitors resident movement in near-real time, alerting staff when either a threshold is met or a behaviour is unusual, prompting them to check on a resident and adjust care plans as needed.
Going forward, the Insights Lab plans to add further data sources, such as electronic health records or progress notes, to enhance its ability to perform predictive analytics. Muscat is currently looking to bring on a fourth Mitacs intern to serve as “health statistician”, to assist Ivari in determining the best statistical thresholds to impose for alerts.
For Ivari, the Mitacs internship is creating a chance to experience what a career path in healthcare might look like. “I’ve always been interested in data and data modelling, but now I can see tangible benefits of my work, and it gives me great pride to know that peoples’ lives will benefit,” she said.
Once the Insights Lab’s processes are developed and validated, the plan is to roll out its data-driven support services to other Shannex communities throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. It is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of New Brunswick, Innovation PEI, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Ontario, Research Manitoba, the Government of Saskatchewan, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, and the Government of Yukon. For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.