By Samantha Winn | July 16, 2019
In a basement on Lady Street in downtown Columbia, Neset Hikmet can be found in a 24/7 lab space filled with couches, whiteboards and cords leading to endless computers. An indoor fountain sits in the corner, creating an ambiance of creative and focused research. In this deceptively quiet space, Hikmet works around the clock alongside several Masters of Health Information Technology students and staff, gradually improving the welfare of many South Carolina residents.
In 2012, in response to the growing need for information technology professionals in the healthcare industry, UofSC’s College of Engineering and Computing and Arnold School of Public Health collaborated to create the Masters of Health Information Technology program.
“The focus is on health information technologies, so that’s any kind of information technology used for healthcare,” Bob Brookshire, a professor in the integrated information technology department, says. “Technologies, like databases, in the healthcare space are a little different than they are in other commercial spaces. So, it’s basically IT but in the health arena.”
Students in the MHIT program get hands-on experience by working directly on projects that impact South Carolina citizens. One ongoing project – led by John M. Brooks, the endowed chair of the SmartState Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopaedics – is a collaboration with Greenville School District, Greenville Health Systems and cloud-based software company PlanetHS to create a secure database for high school athletes that tracks injuries and their recovery times.
Variables stored in the database include the type of injury, the sport the student athlete plays and various treatment options. The details about an athlete’s injury can then be used to help health professionals determine the best methods of treatment for the student and determine how long it will take the athlete to return to the field, based on past data.
“What we are doing is pulling from four different data resources,” Hikmet says. “We built the repository and then we pulled all the data and created this database cube. And based on our students’ research questions, they can go back and pull additional information.”
The goal of this project is to create a universal database for athletes, allowing future student athletes to decide on the best individual treatments available.
MHIT students are also working on another database project to help social workers in SC more easily record and therefore increase their number of home visits. This joint venture with the Arnold School of Public Health has been ongoing since 2014.
“Originally, social workers were recording home visits on paper and through phone interviews,” Hikmet says. “When we came on board, we built a web-based system where every internal visit is reported into the system, which is all aggregated in real time.”
The web-based compiling system allows social workers and service providers to report their home visits every three, six, 12, or 18 months – even up to 48 months. Ultimately, the compliance response reporting under the new system rose to 99.9 percent – a real life statistic that proves social workers are better reaching and understanding their communities.
Along with all the benefits the MHIT program is bringing to the local community, it is also preparing its students for future jobs in the booming healthcare industry. Students in the MHIT program are required to complete 250 internship hours to further prepare them for the healthcare IT field. But to the students and their mentors, their hands-on research is more than just a class requirement.
Brookshire says, “I think, from our perspective, it’s just rewarding to see when our students are able to make a big difference in the way that healthcare is delivered in their organizations.”