Ben Schooley of the College of Engineering and Computing is transforming health care using digital technology that facilitates communication between patients and health care providers. He is involved in a number of research projects designed to improve patient wellness, partnering with health systems such as Prisma Health. His goal is to help patients make better decisions about their care.
“A lot of the work that I do is focused on designing software-based systems that involves impacting a decision or enabling a decision by patients or health care providers,” Schooley explains. “In other words, how can we provide information, at the most opportune time, so that optimal decisions can be made?”
One system is being developed in conjunction with the Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopaedics, a collaboration of the Arnold School of Public Health and Prisma Health. The software will use natural language processing to assist orthopaedic surgeons and their patients in determining key criteria for treatment decisions. Schooley explains that typically there is limited information in a patient’s record, but more details in the doctor’s notes that are more difficult to analyze.
“Schooley is an amazing translational researcher with great insights into how emerging health care technology can help our industry tackle its biggest challenges. I am honored to work with him on conducting research around the use of multiple transformational digital technologies...”
- Nick Patel, M.D., Prisma Health Chief Digital Executive and Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs
Schooley says, “We are applying natural language processing to extract keywords from the notes used in making decisions about surgery. For instance, by identifying words and expressions such as ‘muscle atrophy,’ ‘fatty infiltration’ or ‘medium-sized full thickness rotator cuff tear,’ we can find patterns across thousands of patient records that identify and justify why certain treatment decisions were made. We’ll use that data to provide models in the form of digital tools to assist with future treatment decisions for patients experiencing similar circumstances.”
Schooley is working on an additional tool for orthopaedic patients and their providers, a mobile app that will elicit care preferences from patients prior to treatment. Patients are engaged through the app, prior to their first visit with a doctor, to assess their priorities for care, such as cost, minimal missed work or pain management. The software will allocate points to preferences that are most important, and the doctor can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Soon, the app will enter a patient testing phase.
Schooley is also involved in development of an app designed to assist African American breast cancer survivors with their medication and recovery. Alongside Sue Heiney of the School of Nursing, he built STORY+, currently in a patient testing phase. The app goes beyond just medication reminders—it builds a community via a social media component where survivors can share their experiences of survival, therapy and medication side effects with other women. The app also has features that track medication side effects and facilitate patient and provider communication.
A digital tool with which many South Carolinians are familiar is Prisma Health’s COVID-19 chatbot. The chatbot, free and available to anyone through Prisma Health’s website, is a symptom checker that guides high-risk patients to additional care. While Schooley did not build the chatbot, he is evaluating data for tens of thousands of users to determine its effectiveness.
He says, “It’s not often that health systems are able to engage the broader community. We found that those who liked using the chatbot were those in the greatest need, with the most severe symptoms. Prisma Health was able to target those individuals, provide pathways for care and reduce spread.”
Schooley collaborates with Nick Patel, M.D., Prisma Health Chief Digital Executive and Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, in evaluation of the chatbot as well as other research efforts. Patel says, “Schooley is an amazing translational researcher with great insights into how emerging health care technology can help our industry tackle its biggest challenges. I am honored to work with him on conducting research around the use of multiple transformational digital technologies such as chatbots, bedside engagement, virtual reality and 3D printing, just to name a few, that we have deployed at Prisma Health.”
Schooley explains that using information technology to assist patient decision making is important due to the vast amount of medical knowledge that continues to grow exponentially. He says, “People are becoming more educated about their health care options, and there is demand for more accurate and timely information in order to come to the best possible care decisions. But there’s too much information for any one patient to assimilate. Doctors experience the same thing. After they finish their medical training, the amount of new knowledge that continues to accumulate is difficult to track. But we can provide the intelligent tools to do that, help make decisions, to make life a little easier on them.”
Ben Schooley is an associate professor of integrated information technology in the College of Engineering and Computing. His research is focused on discovering how software systems can be conceptualized, designed, developed and applied to improve how people work, make decisions and interact with each other.