Georgia Tech Students Sweep Health IT Coding Challenge

Key to the future efficiency of the United States’ health care system is effective implementation of new technologies, such as electronic medical records (EMRs), as well as dovetailing those technologies with the human care and decision-making that is so critical to good medicine.

Example: Physicians who are on call—meaning, literally, positioned to provide care and direction via telephone—invariably must respond to patients they’ve never met. The information at hand may be the patient’s own description of symptoms and perhaps the data contained in an EMR. How should such a data set be presented to the doctor to maximize the speed and effectiveness of care?

A team of Georgia Tech College of Computing graduate students recently accepted that challenge—and delivered in a big way. Calling themselves the Georgia Tech Flatliners, the group finished first, second and third at the CONNECT Code-a-Thon Challenge, held April 28-29 in Miami.

“New ideas and new approaches for health care information technology are among the most critical challenges facing the United States today,” said Stephen Fleming, Georgia Tech vice president and executive director of the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute. “Georgia Tech’s understanding of information technology and its knowledge of the health care industry provide a unique perspective on this challenge. The success of these students demonstrates that Georgia Tech can play an important role in addressing critical needs in this area.”

The Code-a-Thon asked teams to create innovative stylesheets to display the information in a continuity of care document (CCD) to a primary care physician taking calls from patients after office hours. The idea is to develop a CCD visualization tool that facilitates an efficient and effective phone consultation between the on-call doctor and an unfamiliar patient. Not only did the solutions have to transfer data error-free, but the graphic user interface had to translate across multiple platforms (mobile phone, netbook, full-size screen, etc.) and allow for the most efficient use of the physician’s time.

The GT Flatliners, consisting of computer science Ph.D. student Klara Benda and master’s students Adrian Courreges, Monosij Dutta-Roy and Hassan Khan, presented three solutions: a problem-based approach, a rapid-information-access approach and a multi-context approach. The three solutions finished No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in the contest—which was not limited to just students. The Flatliners also competed against working professionals in health IT. Here’s what they came up with:

• Problem Oriented Approach (winner): arranged the clinical data by problem so that the physician could hone in on relevant information to the particular problem the patient is presenting.
• Multi-Context Approach (second place): provided a highly flexible visual display that allows the physician to arrange information according to his or her particular “mental model” for handling a particular problem.
• Rapid Access Approach (third place): provided quick and easy navigation among all of the clinical areas in which data is stored in the CCD.

The College of Computing, together with colleagues across Georgia Tech, is making a big push into the grand challenge of health IT. In 2004 President George W. Bush signed an executive order calling for the creation of a national health information infrastructure; by 2015, all Americans will have a digital CCD. Thus solutions like those provided by the College of Computing team will be critical to maximizing the efficiency of those records. Indeed, all three Flatliner solutions are now available for free download and use through Open Health Tools (OHT), an open source community for health IT.

“If the country is going to make full use of technology in improving the efficiency of our health care system—and getting a handle on the enormous costs it currently demands—it’s going to take the effort and ingenuity of everyone in the health IT community,” said Professor Mark Braunstein, who taught the health informatics class in which the Flatliner team was enrolled. “I’m tremendously proud of our students for coming up with such innovative solutions to this problem, and I’m thankful to the people and organizations we’ve partnered with to bring these solutions into the open source community.”

Sponsored by the National Health Information Network, the Code-a-Thon Challenge was hosted by Florida International University, OHT and the American Academy of Family Physicians National Research Network. For more information, visit the contest’s website:

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