Engineering a healthy approach

A team of UW-Madison engineers is creating new, more robust decision-support software that could help prevent a frequent, potentially fatal blood-clotting condition in hospitalized patients.

The work is to help prevent and manage venous thromboembolism (VTE). VTE occurs when a blood clot in a vein breaks free and travels in the blood, sometimes making its way to the lungs.

If it is not noticed and treated early, VTE becomes difficult to detect and potentially fatal. “When the blood clot travels to the upper body, it might not show in the leg anymore,” says Pascale Carayon, the Procter & Gamble Bascom Professor in Total Quality in industrial and systems engineering.

Each year, more than 900,000 cases of VTE occur in the United States, and approximately 540,000 of those people develop VTE either during their hospitalization or within 30 days of discharge.

Decisions about how best to prevent, diagnose or treat VTE vary across hospital units, and even across patients. Because of the diversity of prevention, diagnostic, and treatment options for VTE, Carayon says clinical decision support software should be tailored to particular applications. “I hope our project helps the medical community understand the benefits of an engineering approach,” she says, “where you dissect the system and the processes involved in it.”