Students develop app for in-flight care


Brody Berson, left, Mario Galeno, Aero Med flight nurse Emily Bennett, Michael Torres and Kyle Schelhaas stand beside a helicopter with their tablets. Courtesy GVSU

A group of college students has worked with a health system's helicopter team to develop a mobile app for in-flight patient care.

Grand Valley State University said medical crews at Aero Med Spectrum Health are currently using an iPad application and software platform developed by four recent graduates from the School of Computing and Information Systems.

Partnering with Spectrum Health and Spectrum Health Innovations as part of the senior capstone course in the School of Computing and Information Systems, the four students worked with members of Aero Med to develop a functioning application to assist in-flight emergency care crews with standard operating procedures.

Jonathan Engelsma, associate professor in the School of Computing and Information Systems at the Padnos College of Engineering, said as the last course seniors take, the capstone project allows students the opportunity to demonstrate all the skills they have learned in the program over the course of 15 weeks.

“I had been in discussion with the folks at Spectrum Health Innovation about the various ways we could collaborate,” said Engelsma. “We solicit projects from our corporate partners. Teams have to work very closely with the people from the outside organization, understand their need … implement and test the final application.”

Building on an idea from Emily Bennett, a flight nurse at Aero Med, the four students developed an application incorporating an easily accessible reference guide of standard operating procedures for a variety of different medical conditions. The students included Brody Berson, Mario Galeno, Michael Torres and Kyle Schelhaas.

Providing detailed checklists for a number of different procedures, Engelsma said the application enables the medical team to treat the patient while using the simple, clean interface on the iPad to keep track of data.

“It sort of automated or bypassed some of the more labor intensive audits and record keeping,” said Engelsma. “It was a fairly major piece of work that the students did, but it really helped the Aero Med teams minimize what they are taking on in-flight and also automated standard operating procedures.”

Originally searching through large binders and then transitioning to pdf files, Torres said the application was created to help the emergency staff at Aero Med reduce the inefficiencies of the pdf file reader tool used.

“They were using old ways of searching for documentation and it was inefficient,” said Torres. “They knew they could do something better and then they connected with us at Grand Valley and we created an app that would let them easily search for medical cases and browse the proper medical preparations and procedures they would do when they were out on flights.”

The software was developed in the Mobile Applications and Services Lab at Grand Valley, and it also can track group and individual data on performance measures to help identify best practices, trends and additional training needs.

“It was a great learning experience. Only one of the group members actually knew iOS, so the majority of the group used iOS for the first time,” said Torres. “We learned a lot through it and it was great to learn from a project we knew would be used in real life and eventually lead to something that was bigger. That gave us a lot of motivation to learn and work as hard as we could.”

Through the capstone experience, students are exposed to real situations in which they have to develop working relationships with each other, learn how to effectively communicate with the customer, organize the software, and work on deadline, according to Engelsma.

“It is really hard to reproduce the real world in the confines of a classroom,” said Engelsma. “Once the rubber hits the road and they are actually doing it, it is just a wonderful learning experience. It goes beyond the technical skills. They spent time out at the hangar, talked with different nurses and doctors, and basically got in the heads of their clients.”

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