Assessment of Hydrogels to Aid in Point of Care Ultrasound Barrier Reduction at the University of Virginia; How Specific Demographics Contribute to Disparate Outcomes in the Patient-Physician Relationship

Wood, Deborah, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Morikawa, Masahiro, MD-FMED Family Medicine, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Point of care ultrasound (POCUS) is a technique performed and interpreted by a physician at a patient's bedside to establish a medical diagnosis. With this diagnostic tool, patients spend less time waiting to receive critical information about their disease state, access medical care or treatment to alleviate their symptoms more quickly and improve the quality of their patient-physician relationships. POCUS, however, is inconvenient to perform with ultrasound gel since physicians must wipe off the gel each time it is used and cannot reuse the material on an additional body part. Thus, my technical project centered on assessing accessible hydrogels to replace ultrasound gel for POCUS use at the University of Virginia. The patient-physician relationship is defined as the amalgamation of social aspects underlying a physician providing consensual medical care or treatment to a patient. Because these interactions are at the heart of healthcare, the patient-physician relationship has been characterized in four models that each distinctively describe the ways in which of the patient-physician relationship affect patient and physician behavior. In my STS project, I studied demographics that define a patient or physician's identity: age, gender, race, and income. Using the sociotechnical framework of Actor-Network Theory, I determined that each of these factors presents opportunities for patients to experience differences in satisfaction and for physicians to differ in the modes of communication they use with their patients. I then established additional metrics to alleviate the gap in outcomes that persists with the aid of four commonly touted models for the patient-physician relationship.

While replacing ultrasound gel with a hydrogel improves the convenience of POCUS, the medical system comprises more than technologies like these. There are social dynamics that medical technologies interact with while physicians provide medical treatment. I performed my sociotechnical research to connect my technical project and the social and ethical considerations that persist alongside it. I considered how patient and physician demographics provide a baseline to understand the quality of the patient-physician relationship. In this vein, I learned how productively POCUS performs in each patient-physician interaction from a social standpoint.

It is easy to believe that your technical thesis best represents what it means to be an engineer since the word refers to someone who synthesizes or advances technologies. However, you should find great fulfillment in looking beyond your technology to clearly understand at least one way that your technical work fits in the broader society outside of its obvious function. Within my sociotechnical thesis, I bridged the implications of my technical work in the hopes of thinking about the social dilemmas following my technical work. More importantly, I have heightened my capacity to be a conscientious engineer.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Point-of-care ultasound, Hydrogels, Primary care, Diagnostics, Patient-physician relationship, Patient-physician interactions, Demographics, Actor-Network Theory

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisors: Masahiro Morikawa
STS Advisors: Richard Jacques and Benjamin Laugelli
Capstone Team Members: Arghya Shetty

Issued Date: