Human Factors Engineering Project Aims to Improve Veterans’ Access to Virtual Medical Care

December 19, 2019

Dr. Jason Saleem, Assistant Professor in Industrial Engineering at the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering, has been awarded a contract with Cognitive Medical Systems, Inc. Saleem will subcontract with the company to support the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The contract runs from November of 2019 through September 2020, with the potential for renewal for up to four more years, and has an estimated value of more than $80,000.

“Recent statements about the VA by politicians and others have been mostly negative,” said Dr. Suraj Alexander, Chair of Industrial Engineering at the Speed School. “These have received considerable exposure in the press. Dr. Jason Saleem’s project strives to change this perception by improving the end user experience of our veterans, who seek care at the VA.”

For the contract, Saleem is championing the VA’s goal to increase awareness and application of human factors principles, and improving performance and safety of VA health information systems (HIS). Through rigorous application of the scientific discipline and engineering profession of human factors engineering, they aim to optimize the end-user experience. What will that entail?

The first part of the work will support the VA Office of Connected Care (OCC) to help them achieve a greater understanding of Veteran preferences around communication tools and interaction with the VA, as well as a strategy for Veteran-facing HIS tools going forward.

“We need to know basic things first, like what kind of information Veterans feel comfortable sharing through the tools and what they are most interested in,” said Saleem. “Is it tracking their meds? Being able to communicate directly with providers?”

After determining the greatest needs and preferences, Saleem said the priority is to make the tools highly usable and easy to interact with. “Access to care has been an issue in the past at the VA, so we need to be able to reach as many Veterans as possible. Making these virtual care tools as easy to use as possible is critically important.”

Currently, the Veterans have several tools available to them to them to connect with VA including a website, MyHealtheVet that can be used to message providers, view medical records, upload and track data. “There are also smart phone apps they can use, but the tools need to be more coordinated with one another. We need to determine what is working well and improve on that,” said Saleem.

Two graduate students, one master’s level and one doctoral level, will be assisting Saleem with the project and will be paid hourly by the grantor, Cognitive Medical Systems. For the students, there will be opportunities to participate in this work and disseminate it via journal publications and conference presentations.

Saleem, who worked at various positions at the VA earlier in his career, said he has done numerous projects with them in the five years he has been a faculty member at University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering. “It’s intrinsically satisfying to know work you are doing may have a positive impact with our nation’s Veterans,” he said.