Improving patient safety through technology

Dr Nik Nailah Abdullah - School of Information Technology
Dr Nik Nailah Abdullah - School of Information Technology

Patients’ safety, especially those in intensive care units (ICUs), is of paramount importance. As such, much attention into this area has been given by the Ministry of Health an d hospitals including the National Heart Institute (Institut Jantung Negara). However, there is a lack when it comes to evaluating existing IT systems in the ICUs, which is used as part of a clinician’s decision making process.

To address this issue, Monash University Malaysia’s School of Information Technology is currently working in collaboration with the National Heart Institute of Malaysia to enhance their IT system within the ICU. This will in turn, improve patient safety during their hospital stay.

Medical cognitive scientist and lead researcher Dr Nik Nailah Abdullah, said that the project will be a first of its kind in Malaysia. Dr Nailah, who is also a lecturer at the School of Information Technology in Monash Malaysia shared, ‘This collaboration will look at improving the current system design in ICUs, through the application of cognitive science and artificial intelligence methods.”

“The research is about how to design a system that supports clinician decision-making process that has safety elements.

“Each patient has different conditions. It is about coming up with a general solution that is applicable in different contexts.  

“The study will look into how clinicians make decisions, communicate, and practise within their culture so that an information system can be built to help them make better decisions at the ICUs,” she said.

Dr Nailah said the project was inspired by Prof Vimla L. Patel from the New York Academy of Medicine whose research has explored the role of cognition in designing a safer clinical workplace, group decision-making process in critical care unit, the generation of medical errors, and the impact of technology on human cognition.

“It is an extremely complex environment at the ICUs as it involves a team of clinicians from different backgrounds who take care of patients, most with severe and critical illnesses,” she explained.

Dr Nailah said it is important for clinicians who are treating the same patient to collaborate and be well informed of what each member has done for the patient.

“Efficient and effective computer technology will decrease the time spent on the system and increase time spent on treating a patient. In the critical care unit, it goes beyond that. It is also about reducing and mitigating human and system errors,” she said.

Citing an example from the US, Dr Nailah said a patient suffered due to a delay in the computer system, which failed to reflect the increase of dosage in medication.

She said it is thus important for researchers to understand the problems faced by clinicians at the ICUs. This is so that the right design principles are applied when building the information system.

“Theories from the research world need to be adapted to the real problems, so that we can provide the best solution to the clinicians’ problems.

“We need to understand that there are different nurses and specialists involved in the treatment of one patient. Each of them has their own way of communicating what the patient needs. These are the elements that we need to consider,” she said.

Dr Nik Nailah said the researchers involved are in the midst of setting up a multi-centre study to look into the workflow in the critical care unit, clinicians’ decision-making process, and the challenges involved.

“The Health Ministry’s current agenda is to advocate patients’ safety in all hospitals in Malaysia. We hope that more PhD students will be able to join us in making this project a success,” she said.

For more information on the programs at Monash Malaysia’s School of Information Technology, please visit