Guest Column | May 11, 2020

Improving HCP Interaction And Performance Through Biosensors

By Samir Karzazi, iMotions

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As functionality expands, and cost decreases, advanced biosensors are playing an increasing role in healthcare. While most of that opportunity and discussion have focused on patient monitoring, there’s an equally critical impact area: healthcare providers, themselves.

If this recent pandemic has reinforced anything, it’s that our healthcare workers, for all their dedication, are highly susceptible to burnout and workload. And that creates more obstacles to them performing at their peak and making critical decisions under stressful situations.

These biosensors have been used to enable reliable multimodal research in labs and natural research settings, and below are three inspiring use cases of biosensor research in healthcare communications, device usability, and therapeutic interaction – all of which can stand as role models to guide the future of healthcare research.

Emergency Care Simulations Provide Information On HCP’s Performance By Analyzing Gaze Patterns

During medical emergencies, how healthcare professionals execute their jobs can often mean the difference between life and death. A recent interdisciplinary collaboration focused on an HCP’s situational awareness during an emergency simulation. The team of researchers from Yokohama City University, Kyushu Institute of Technology, and Nottingham University collaborated to analyze an emergency doctor’s decision making from his gaze behavior, using eye-tracking glasses and iMotions software. This study is part of the Japan-UK Eyework Project, aiming to investigate how HCPs in emergency care achieve intersubjectivity and use emergency interaction as a social action.

The most recent study from the project took place in a natural hospital setting, with two other doctors, and a mock-patient having a brain hemorrhage. The doctor studied needed to perform as normal in this emergency, while researchers were observing his gaze data in real-time. They found that the team leader’s gaze was most frequently on his teammates’ bodies, using this information to quantify and describe HCP interactions. Gaze patterns turned out to signal the lead and requests within the medical team.

This study is a pioneer to establish a standard methodology using eye-tracking glasses, and possibly other biosensors to develop HCP’s behaviors in emergencies. Wearable sensor technologies such as eye-tracking glasses make it possible to study HCP behavior in naturalistic settings, increasing the generalizability of results, gaining fast insights that are immediately applicable to real-life situations.

Biosensors Provide Increased Insights On Usability Testing Of Medical Devices

Devices used in hospitals are crucial for fast diagnosis and treatment for many different diseases. These devices can be quite sophisticated and complex for the user. Given the hectic hospital environments, healthcare workers need medical devices that have intuitive designs and clear use instructions. Applied psychology researchers from FORCE Technology in Denmark worked on easing this problem by studying how to improve the usability studies of medical devices using eye-tracking glasses.

Thomas Koester and colleagues posited that eye-tracking can provide a window into the perception of the user when interacting with a medical device. This is often not achieved with traditional methods of UX research such as video observations, post-use interviews, and surveys, that are prone to biases and errors.

Koester’s study procedure involved having participants use an undisclosed medical device (for confidentiality reasons) in two scenarios, one where the user tries to identify the device status (i.e. if the device is ready to use) and the other where the user decides if the device needs maintenance or not. They also compared the findings to a parallel observation using traditional ethnographic methods for usability testing.

To analyze the eye-tracking data, the researchers used heat maps and areas of interest (AOI) functionalities of iMotions. The final evaluation showed that eye-tracking glasses provided faster and more detailed results with additional insights. It was found that the group that used eye-tracking glasses could obtain at least five additional insights that weren’t obtained by the traditional method team. For instance, they noticed that the facilitator’s papers were distracting to the user while the initial information was being communicated. Another observation was that none of the participants looked at an important button on the device. Moreover, the researchers could find out that the participants with prior experience with similar devices showed reduced performance.

Through these insights, it became possible to find out the root cause of user’s errors, and how the user’s attention was distributed throughout the tasks. In conclusion, eye-tracking glasses and real-time data synchronization significantly improve usability research for medical devices, making it possible to study these devices in their real and natural scenarios.

Biosensor Research Can Improve Therapeutic Interactions By Analyzing Emotional Expressions Of Care Givers

The role of emotions in decision making has been investigated for decades. Recent studies have shown that these emotions, associated with muscle activation, are the dominant engine of most of the significant decisions we make every day. However, not much information is available about how this facial muscle activity, and its derived emotional expression, are related to the therapeutic decisions that physicians make every day in their consultations.

In addition, there is a very common phenomenon that affects doctors who care for patients with chronic conditions, called therapeutic inertia (TI), which defines the absence of treatment initiation or intensification when there is clear evidence of clinical and radiological activity of the disease. This phenomenon often leads to poorer clinical outcomes and higher healthcare costs.

That’s why, the “Decision Neuroscience Unit” of the University of Toronto in collaboration with the University of Zurich, decided to carry out a study to define how and what type of emotional expressions are associated with therapeutic decisions in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients care. To do this, they evaluated the relationship between emotions and affective states, and TI among neurologists who care for these MS patients, while they are making their therapeutic decisions. Specifically, the study was carried out in MS expertise neurologists, who were asked to answer various questions about their clinical practice, aversion to ambiguity, and the management of different simulated case scenarios.

They recorded facial muscle activations and their associated emotional expressions during the study by using the AFFDEX iMotions software and they found that half of the participants showed TI in at least one of the case scenarios. This suggests that facial metrics and emotional expressions are associated with physicians’ choices and partially mediate the effect of aversion to ambiguity on TI. Therefore, they propose that identifying and administering appropriate educational interventions in such situations can facilitate optimal therapeutic decision making in chronic diseases, resulting in better results for patients and lower costs of medical care.

As we have taken a look, biometric tools and multimodal research was used in three very different areas under healthcare applications. These studies in healthcare communication, device usability testing, and treatment for multiple sclerosis can serve as important guides and inspirations for future research in similar areas in healthcare. They are a few examples among many studies showing the potential benefits of a multimodal approach in healthcare applications.

About The Author

Samir Karzazi is Director of Enablement Services at iMotions.