Enhancing Patient Care Through Technology

woman wearing blue shirt and colorful scarf who is smiling in front of a sign that says sparrow

Dawn Opel, Assistant Professor of Digital Media and User Experience in MSU’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, is working to find new ways for clinical and community organizations to work together to better coordinate care for patients.

“All the work I am doing is very much linked to what resources exist in our community and how health care organizations might help patients find them,” Opel said. “We seek to improve the search and referral process in clinics to community-based organizations; or, how do we as professionals assist those who are under-resourced locate the services in our community that are available to them.”

One way this is being accomplished is through a partnership with Elder Law of Michigan, Inc., to use a cloud-based application that enables local clinics to search and locate community partners to coordinate patient care and which allows them to communicate with community organizations. The app also gives clinics and health care organizations the ability to see if a person actually received services.

This work is changing the cultural dimension of clinical practice to include what happens when patients walk out the door.

“The hope is that it can close the loop on communication,” Opel said, “so everyone can see where everyone is in the process and hopefully catch more people who may never have made that phone call, never followed up, or didn’t have the transportation to go where they needed to go.”

Opel sees herself as a node working between all these community organizations to better coordinate health care and community services.

She began working on the project as a Research Fellow at Sparrow/MSU Center for Innovation and Research. As part of her fellowship, she collected data and did a pilot study on the software’s efficacy at Sparrow Hospital with the goal of using the data collected to apply for larger grants to allow the software to be rolled out to a broader audience.

All the work I am doing is very much linked to what resources exist in our community and how health care organizations might help patients find them.

Opel currently works exclusively with older adult patients and patients who are on Medicare or Medicaid.

“The reason I find that important is linked to the humanities mission of the work that I do,” Opel said. “It’s one thing to have your Medicare card, it’s an entirely different issue to actually be healthy and to reach the health and wellness that we’ve come to expect or that we would hope health insurance would bring – to also help those who are uninsured receive quality care as well.”

The ultimate goal is for the cloud-based application to become an intra-professional communication strategy to help form a safety net around vulnerable patients. 

Opel currently is working to get any and all free community resources onboard and to roll this out to patient care beyond older adults, which is the next phase of the project.