WPI Student Project Proves You Can Be in Two Places at Once

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - An award-winning project by a WPI student team proves that when it comes to at least one aspect of medical care, it is possible for someone to be in two places at the same time.

Bryan Allain '98 of Swansea, Mass., Brenda Dunn '98 of Littleton, Mass., Matthew Freimuth '98 of Bristol, Conn., and Matthew Herr '98 of Strasburg, Pa., determined that videoconferencing can bring preadmissions testing (PAT) to patients closer to their homes than the hospital where they would ultimately be admitted for surgery.

The Interactive Qualifying Project, sponsored by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., was one of two winners of the 1996 President's IQP Awards Competition. Five project teams were finalists in the annual competition, which was held in December 1996.

Allain, Dunn, Freimuth and Herr developed a procedure that incorporates telemedicine into preadmissions testing. The procedure enables patients to complete the necessary preadmissions tests in a local hospital associated with Beth Israel Deaconess. The test results are faxed to the BI Deaconess. A video link is then established between the remote clinic and the PAT clinic nurses in Boston. Patient and nurses consult via teleconferencing equipment. The consultation allows the nurses to gain information about the patient's medical status and provides the patient with information about the impending surgery. The face-to-face videolink is also an opportunity for the patient to express concerns and ask questions. The consult is performed as if everyone is in the same room.

As part of the feasibility study the procedure was demonstrated with volunteers from the BI Deaconess and from the Deaconess-Glover, a small community hospital in Needham, Mass. The students determined that incorporating telemedicine into preadmissions testing can save money for both hospital and patient. The hospital gains by decreasing the number of patients who do not undergo PAT. Completed PAT decreases surgical delays and cancellations that occur because test information is lacking. The patient saves time and money by being tested closer to home.

The students presented their findings to the Beth Israel Deaconess Telemedicine Executive Committee and to the CareGroup's Presidents Council. The council agreed to study the application of telemedicine to preadmissions testing and to consider the procedure for full-scale implementation. The students believe that this is the only example of the use of this technology for PAT.

The Interactive Qualifying Project is one of three projects all undergraduates undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible, exciting and academically challenging program introduced in 1971. Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities to integrate classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S. and abroad. The purpose of the IQP is to make students aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically. About 280 IQPs were completed this year.

"Theses students have performed an important project looking at the impact of state-of-the-art telecommunications technology on the practice of medicine," says Robert A. Peura, head of WPI's Biomedical Engineering Department. Peura and Peter Macaulay, CareGroup telemedicine project director served as IQP advisors. "They were a pleasure to work with," adds Macaulay. "Their enthusiasm, professionalism and skill helped us to move forward an important telemedicine application."

Allain, son of Richard and Jacqui Allain of Swansea, Mass., is a graduate of Case High School in Swansea. Dunn, daughter of Barbara and the late William Dunn of Littleton, Mass., graduated from Littleton Junior Senior High School. She is an EMT and a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and Mu Sigma Delta, the pre-health society. Both students are majoring in chemical engineering with biomedical interest.

Herr, who is majoring in chemical engineering, is the son of Kenneth and Barbara Herr of Strasburg, Pa. He graduated from Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lampeter, Pa. He is a member of the Christian Bible Fellowship, AIChE, and the Flying Club and plays intramural basketball, soccer and volleyball.

Freimuth is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Freimuth of Bristol, Conn. He graduated from Bristol Central High School. At WPI, where he is majoring in chemical engineering with materials science interest, is president of the Student Government Association and a member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, and the Christian Bible Fellowship.