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A team of seven students will present recommendations to Lehigh Valley Hospital Physicians Group today on how it can improve the experience of patients at their doctors’ offices.

The students have spent the past two semesters in Technology Clinic, a hands-on course in which students from different majors join together to solve real-world problems for clients that include businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

The team is comprised of Catriona Mhairi Duncanson, a senior A.B. engineering major from Basking Ridge, N.J.; Michael Avicolli, a senior International Affairs major from New Britain, Conn.; Zachary Bittner, a senior environmental literary analysis major from Washington Crossing, Pa.; Sam Toma, a junior economics and business major from Endicott, N.Y.; Stacy Alboher, a junior economics and business major from Middletown, N.Y.; Kate McGovern, a senior English major from Dunstable, Mass.; and Joseph Hamill, a senior mechanical engineering major from Mahopac, N.Y.

The group has been advised by Dan Bauer, professor of anthropology and sociology, and Larry Malinconico, professor of geology. “We want to make the patients’ visits better despite the pressure that comes from HMO’s,” explains Bauer.

“I found it interesting to work with people from different majors,” says McGovern, a Writing Associate, reporter for the school newspaper, and member of Alpha Phi sorority. “It’s not often that I’m exposed to someone who thinks from an engineering viewpoint, which is more scientific than mine since I’m an English major. It was a good experience.”

Technology Clinic is representative of an academic environment that fosters close interaction with professors and fellow students, she adds.

“I don’t think at a big school I would have the opportunity to work closely with seven other people in a project like this,” says McGovern, who plans to pursue a career in journalism after graduating.

The students’ research included shadowing doctors and interviewing physicians, patients, office staff, and alternative practitioners to analyze styles of care and determine why patients often feel more anxious or nervous after seeing a physician than they do after visiting other health professionals.

“The entire system of insurance providers, HMO’s, and lawyers becoming increasingly involved with patient care has led physicians to see health-care as more of a business, and their patients as customers. With every move placed under a microscope and having the potential to be second-guessed, doctors have more external pressure placed upon them than in time past,” notes the Technology Clinic report.

The students cited three significant elements associated with many other health professionals that are absent from doctor’s offices: laying on of hands, the practitioner and patient working together, and immediate physical improvement. A visit to the physician seldom combines diagnosis and therapy, according to the students.

To increase scheduling efficiency, the students recommended implementation of a “catch-up period” in which no visits would be scheduled, allowing time to make up for longer visits and late patient arrivals.

The report also discusses information sharing and the setup and use of a Geographical Information Systems database tracking the concentrations of certain diseases in the Lehigh Valley and other factors. The GIS mapping system would provide data for doctors interested in learning about the demographics of their patients or the areas they serve, for investigation of the area served by LVPG, and for location of possible areas for expansion and areas where there is need for a particular physician specialty or that are otherwise under-served.

Another issue covered by the Technology Clinic is matching physician style with patient style. According to the report, doctors may be “minimizers,” prescribing the least amount of drugs; “maximizers,” giving a high level of treatment; or “optimizers,” fine-tuning treatment more specifically, but requiring more tests, which often is discouraged by the HMO system.

The Lehigh Valley Physician Group is a group of physician practices serving roughly 366,000 registered patients in the Lehigh Valley as of December 2001.

Categorized in: Academic News