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Patient Centered Design in Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Design in the BME curriculum

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Timothy E. Allen University of Virginia

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Dr. Timothy E. Allen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He received a B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Allen's teaching activities include coordinating the core undergraduate teaching labs and the Capstone Design sequence in the BME department at the University of Virginia, and his research interests are in the fields of computational biology and bioinformatics. He is also interested in evaluating the pedagogical approaches optimal for teaching lab concepts and skills, computational modeling approaches, and professionalism within design classes. Dr. Allen also serves as PI and director for an NSF-funded Multi-Scale Systems Bioengineering REU site at U.Va.

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David Chen University of Virginia

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Mr. David Chen is a lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He received a B.S. in Biology from Liberty University and an M.S. in Cell and Developmental Biology from Rutgers University and an M.B.A from the Darden School at the University of Virginia. Mr. Chen's teaching activities in the Department of Biomedical Engineering include Innovation and Design in Medicine, Design Seminar, and Introduction to Rehabilitation Engineering. He also teaches medical students through the Medical Innovation and Human Centered Design Program in the School of Medicine. Mr. Chen's research interests include design in pediatrics and surgery.

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Design in engineering is not only a core competency for students but is also a useful framework for collaborating across the university. In particular, contextualized patient-centered design based upon immersion and deep empathy are increasingly important skills for graduates planning to work in industry in biomedical design and innovation. At the University of Virginia we offer an advanced design elective in Biomedical Engineering in which students focus on observation and needs identification, followed by the development of initial concepts and prototypes. For the past two years, we taught two different versions of the course: a spring semester clinic-focused offering in which students identified needs based on immersion within one of the divisions of our academic medical center, and an accelerated "January term" patient-focused version in which student teams worked directly with specific patients and their healthcare teams to identify needs and develop concepts. The primary learning objective for this course, regardless of the version (i.e. clinic-focused vs. patient-focused), was to place a strong emphasis on context driven design, inter-professional collaboration, and developing deep empathy.

In the patient-focused January term version of the course, participating patients exhibited a variety of chronic conditions (visual impairment, diabetes, immunogenic disorders, etc.). Students developed a deep understanding of each patient’s health background, visited their patient’s home, and collaborated with professional healthcare providers managing care for these patients, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists, visual impairment educators, and social workers. In the clinic-focused spring version, students spent at least 10 hours shadowing in clinics and interviewing doctors, nurses, and technicians. In both versions, students were provided with training on interviewing, observation, and notetaking, as well as HIPAA privacy training. Once students articulated a design need statement, they developed rudimentary prototypes to present to their patient or medical teams, depending on the version of the course. Inevitably, students had to iterate their designs multiple times in response to feedback from patients and caregivers. Final designs ranged from physical products and devices to software applications.

The ABET course objectives and assessments were virtually identical between the two versions of the course. In 2016 all 18 of the students in the patient-focused version met at least two of the three objectives, and 83.3% met all three objectives. However, in the spring clinic-focused version of the class, only 57% of 21 students met all three objectives, and 5 students met only one or none of the objectives. Additionally, course evaluations for the January term version were higher than the spring version (4.76 vs. 3.78 course mean on a 5-point Likert scale). We believe the improved results for the January term course may be due to one or more of the following factors: 1) the focus on specific patients—and resulting increase in empathy and motivation—rather than a more impersonal clinical observation, 2) the diversity of majors present in the January term course (only half were biomedical engineering majors), and 3) the intensely focused timeline of the course (two weeks vs. a full semester). Anonymous student feedback provides anecdotal support for #1 and #3 above, although all three are likely contributors. We conclude that a focused and in-depth interaction with specific patients yields improved design outcomes and increased student satisfaction with the experience.

Allen, T. E., & Chen, D. (2018, June), Patient Centered Design in Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30860

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