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Students to use social innovation award to improve medical care

A UNT student will collaborate with Children’s Medical Center of Dallas to study why parents take their children to hospital emergency rooms instead of primary care doctors for non-urgent medical matters. And another UNT student will work with the Speech and Hearing Clinic to help people with hearing loss feel more comfortable using new hearing aids.

Both projects are taking place thanks to the Community Renewal Fund award, an annual grant given to students, faculty and staff in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service for entrepreneurial ideas that address social problems in the community.

Ian WattIan Watt, right, a second-year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology, and Danielle Bryant, a second-year doctoral student of audiology in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, each won the 2014 award and a cash stipend of more than $3,000 based on their projects’ merit, student involvement and community impact.

In his preliminary research, Watt discovered that non-urgent care visits congest the system and leave families with high costs that could have been avoided. Quality of care for children is also an issue, he said. Watt explained that children who receive care in the ER see a different doctor every time they visit and tend to have worse health outcomes than children who see the same doctor on a regular basis.

Beginning in May, Watt will interview approximately 35 parents waiting in the ER of Children’s Medical Center to learn why they use hospitals as the first line of defense for health care. He speculates that time might be a contributing factor; a primary care clinic might be closed; or it might be difficult for a parent to get a timely appointment for his or her child. Or some parents might not realize that other resources such as nurse phone lines are available, he said.

“By interviewing parents, I hope to tease apart the complex relationship between health care decision making and access to services,” said Watt. “If parents need more information about alternatives to visiting the ER, or if they truly have no other options, our results will help identify key gaps in services and give us an idea of who needs to be at the table to improve the situation.”

Children’s Medical Center has developed a fast-track system that screens and separates the non-urgent from the urgent care cases, and the information Watt learns will help shape this process. His project is expected to end in late summer.

Danielle BryantBryant, left, will partner with the UNT Speech and Hearing Clinic to provide aural rehabilitation for hearing-impaired patients who recently purchased hearing aids. The classes and hands-on demonstrations aim to improve communication, boost confidence and encourage people to get the most benefit from their hearing aids and other assistive devices.

“The goal is to help people feel comfortable wearing and operating their hearing devices and overcome any stigmas they may have about the technology,” said Bryant. “Many people purchase the devices only to later return them. The training techniques teach simple yet effective strategies for improving communication and building positive experiences around the technology, which I hope will also improve the retention rate.”

Working under the direction of clinical supervisor Lana Ward, Bryant and a team of audiology students will conduct a series of two-hour workshops designed to teach participants how to operate a variety of hearing technologies in different contexts.

FM systems, for example, deliver sound directly from a speaker’s microphone to a user’s receiver and are helpful in large classroom and lecture hall settings. Streamers, remote-controlled devices that can be worn around the neck, link wireless hearing aids to mobile phones, computers and other Bluetooth-enabled electronic devices.

Bryant said the hands-on experience of learning how to operate hearing aids and these other devices is key to improving hearing and communication. Family members, friends and other communication partners are invited to attend the workshops, which Bryant said contributes to the success of the program. The workshops began in February and will conclude in May.

—Julie West, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

Posted on: Wed 05 March 2014

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