Professor Jenna Marquard of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department is the director of the “Human Factors Core” of a five-year, $1.23-million, collaborative grant received by the UMass Amherst College of Nursing from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) in the National Institutes of Health. The NINR grant was awarded to create the new UManage Center to Build the Science of Symptom Self-Management (UManage), where scientists and engineers will develop technologies to help people with chronic illness manage fatigue and impaired sleep. See UMass News Office Story on the NINR Grant.
“The primary goal of the Human Factors Core is to ensure that project team members account for various sociotechnical factors in their technology designs and evaluations to better ensure that the technologies are useful, well-used, and produce anticipated benefits,” explained Marquard, a health informatics and engineering psychology researcher.
Studies in the UManage Center will also help patients decide when and how to modify their activities while testing wearable or handheld devices to monitor fatigue or sleep-pattern changes. One major aim of the UManage Center is to empower individuals and their families to prevent, relieve, or eliminate symptoms associated with chronic conditions across the life-span, with a particular focus on fatigue and impaired sleep.
“Our team is uniquely poised to develop and implement new technological innovations that empower individuals with chronic conditions to achieve a higher quality of life,” as the NINR proposal explained. “While these technological innovations hold significant promise, they do not operate in isolation. Rather, the technologies developed through UManage are one part of a complex sociotechnical system.”
The Principal Investigator for the grant is Cynthia Jacelon, professor of nursing and the director of the UManage Center. Jacelon’s interdisciplinary team includes College of Nursing researchers Annette Wysocki, Karen Kalmakis, and Rachel Walker, in addition to sleep expert Rebecca Spencer of psychological and brain sciences, computer science big-data specialist Deepak Ganesan of the College of Information and Computer Sciences, and Marquard.
The background of the intended research is that individuals with chronic conditions, such as fatigue or sleep impairment, must conduct a complex set of activities to manage those conditions while also fitting all this work into their varied patterns of daily life. While technologies hold promise for helping these individuals monitor and manage their symptoms and conditions, the people designing these technologies must be aware of the contexts of patient work in which the technologies will be used.
Human factors researchers and practitioners have a well-established framework, termed the Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS), for including these factors in product and process designs. The SEIPS framework has recently been expanded to support patient-centered work, such as the management of chronic conditions. SEIPS characterizes patient work as an interacting set of people, tasks, tools, technology, internal environments (light, noise, etc.), home organizations (family roles and responsibilities, work schedules, etc.), and external environments such as insurance regulations.
“At any point in time, these factors interact and produce patient work processes, with these processes leading to positive or negative outcomes,” said Marquard. “In the context of UManage, outcomes may range from increased understanding of the causes of symptoms, increased self-confidence, or improved relationships between the patient and their informal caregivers.”
The UManage Human Factors Core will provide guidance to pilot project research teams, ensuring that these projects succeed with respect to human factors considerations. Core director Marquard will initially meet with each pilot project team to provide guidance about what human factors issues are most likely to affect patients and suggest a set of methods to include. She will also work with each funded pilot project team throughout the project to develop a final human factors evaluation report detailing the extent to which the chosen methods worked or did not work. Marquard will also develop human factors design workshops that will be accessible to the UManage team, the broader UMass community, and any local partners working with the UManage team.
“Our inclusion of human factors design and evaluation methods in every UManage project and initiative is (unfortunately) innovative,” observed Marquard. “Our goal in using these methods is to better ensure the technologies developed through UManage are useful and easy to use, increasing their chance of adoption and long-term use, a required first step toward improving health outcomes such as quality of life.” (November 2016)