Examining ways to improve health care

Sedra Davis ’14 and Claudia D’Adamo ’13 are working with doctors, scientists and other students to research computational approaches to using vital-signs data to improve patient care.

In the United States, traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of injury-related deaths. Sedra Davis ’14 and Claudia D’Adamo ’13, along with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong, are hoping to change that. Through the use of technology, they are working to improve the chances for recovery in critically injured patients.

The three are examining vital-signs data to find common patterns across patients. These patterns will be used to alert health care providers about the need for medical intervention and to predict patient outcomes.

“Computing is changing the way that other disciplines approach asking and answering questions,” says Armstrong. “Opportunities like this provide experiences that will be useful regardless of the path Sedra and Claudia choose: graduate education, professional education, or industry.”

D’Adamo, a psychology and computer science double major, is helping to develop algorithms that will provide continuous patient assessment. “This is similar to a doctor never leaving a bedside,” she says. Using these algorithms and data from patients, “we’ll be able to predict and prevent unfavorable outcomes in future patients.”

Davis, a studio arts major and public health minor, is learning to think about computational approaches to big data problems. An interest in medicine led her to the project. “I thought this was a great behind-the-scenes learning experience that would build the skills medical schools seek.”

The study, which began last fall and will continue through the summer, is funded by a grant from the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research and the Coalition to Diversify Computing. Davis and D’Adamo are collaborating with students and faculty from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and medical staff from the State of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center.

“This research will contribute to innovations in medical informatics that will make processes more efficient and effective,” says Davis, a Posse Scholar. For example, the algorithms will help predict the need for highly invasive procedures, like emergency decompressive craniectomies, says Armstrong. These procedures, which remove part of the skull to allow room for a swelling brain, are risky. But they are highly effective in reducing pressure in the skull, which can restrict blood flow and lead to death.

Both students say they are learning a great deal as they work on this project.

D’Adamo, who is interested in human-computer interaction, says she is gaining valuable information about medical informatics. “It’s introducing me to a new type of data to analyze and a more collaborative type of research environment,” she says. “I wouldn’t have received the research experience I’ve had here anywhere else.”

And, Davis adds: “With assistance from Claudia and Tom, I am now learning computer languages and concepts that are the core of technological innovations. This project has shown me that computer science can be really multidisciplinary. It can be applied to all fields of work. Being an art major, I find it intriguing that I can use computing platforms to visualize data results in a comprehensive and dynamic way.”