Van Alphen was put in touch with Oana Inel at TU Delft’s Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, a specialist in human-computer interaction. “I joined the project from a human-centric perspective, keen to understand how professionals perceive, accept, and use technology,” says Inel. “So I provided input on standardised questionnaires and models to try to understand the factors influencing how and why the physicians at Erasmus MC used the dashboard.”
Computer science meets ENT
Ultimately this Convergence project had two objectives: to quantify the waiting lists and to integrate the outcome of the decision model into the dashboard, enabling physicians to get an overview of the expected health loss due to surgical delay for certain patient groups. Six months later, what have the researchers gained from their collaboration? “For me, it was definitely a reassurance that the most rewarding and necessary research is one that has impact, addressing pitfalls and gaps in current practices,” says Inel. “Of course, interdisciplinary research comes with challenges, but we need to be open and committed to listening and understanding other fields’ languages,” and van Alphen agrees – learning to speak each other’s professional language was a major challenge in the beginning.
And the dashboard? “People were very positive and liked the clear overview of the waiting-lists,” says van Alphen. “But it’s clear that each department has it’s own way of organising its lists for each surgical speciality – and that’s what this project showed us: that there are different silos and people work differently within these different silos.”
Societal impact and the future
But both researchers agree that such decision models will be vital in the future. Van Alphen: “COVID challenged our healthcare systems quite dramatically and looking forward there will be other disruptions leading to long-term scarcity of resources. So hopefully this project gives us some ideas about how to deal with those scarcities.” Inel agrees: “We ran our project in such stressful and challenging times, where resource scarcity showed time after time that critical reflection of prioritisation is crucial for taking control of the situation. We showed just how important it is to gather knowledge and perspectives from every stakeholder – to break the knowledge gap between professionals from different fields by taking full advantage of every solution offered by digitalisation.”