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UC researchers seeking to improve hospital care

UC researchers seeking to improve hospital care of critically ill patients

July 20, 2013

University of Canterbury (UC) researchers are trialling mathematical models to help intensive care unit medical staff monitor patients’ lung conditions.

Each year up to 8000 patients with lung failure are admitted to New Zealand hospital intensive care units for breathing support using mechanical ventilation which is costly, UC mechanical engineering PhD student Yeong Chiew says.

``However, patient condition and response to treatment is different for every patient. Clinicians often rely on intuition and experience to select the most suitable mechanical ventilation method for each patient leading to variable care that can expose patients to sub-optimal mechanical ventilation resulting in further risk of lung injury.

``As a result patient care can be variable and costly, affecting the quality of patient care and clinical outcomes. In particular, ventilated patients stay 70 percent longer in ICU and cost 140 percent more than other patients, indicating the potential for improving care.

``Providing mechanical ventilation for New Zealand ICU patients costs an extra $15 million a year. One of the main issues is that doctors may not have appropriate tools to assess a patient’s exact lung condition at the bedside.

``Chest radiographs are not feasible and are invasive because of the radiation and the patients need to be transported out from ICU to a radiology lab every time assessment is required.

``We are using mathematical models to gauge patients’ lung conditions using already available data at the bedside. The models allow clinicians to effectively see inside the lung to gain a more accurate and exact picture of patient condition.

``Based on this mathematical modelling information, doctors can select the best individual ventilator settings in a consistent fashion every time.’’

The models have been retrospectively tested at Christchurch Hospital’s ICU, as well as on data from collaborating overseas research groups.

The UC research, supervised by Professor Geoff Chase, plans in future to implement the models in larger clinical trial at Christchurch Hospital ICU to provide more patient-specific care, to optimise treatment and to improve outcomes for critically ill patients.

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