IEQs are being tested at UVA Health to see whether they can improve the quality of the rest patients can have in the hospital.
With an Engineering in Medicine seed grant, UVA engineers and nurse scientists are testing how environmental sensors might improve patients' sleep and recovery.

How might “Indoor Environmental Quality” sensors improve patients’ sleep and recovery?

A new partnership between engineers and nurse scientists involving the use of indoor environmental quality sensors aims to improve the sleep and recovery of patients convalesing in the hospital. The collaboration, funded through a seed grant from the UVA Center for Engineering in Medicine, is among Arsalan Heydarian and Laura Barnes, both faculty members in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering, Gabrielle Marzani, an associate professor of psychiatric medicine in the School of Medicine, and nurse scientist Meghan Mattos , a nursing professor and Roberts Scholar alumna.

The project investigates the use of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) sensors to measure things like light, temperature, noise and air quality to gain information on the patient experience in hospital rooms. The team's ultimate goal is to use this data to improve patients’ sleep quality and recovery outcomes.

“The sensing and environmental monitoring approach is most exciting because this type of monitoring can contextualize the patient and nursing experiences," said Heydarian. "Collecting longitudinal data of environmental conditions and then connecting it to patient-specific preferences, behaviors, needs and sleep quality is very new research; there are not that many studies in this area. The longitudinal data that we are collecting is very valuable to researchers, room and lighting designers, clinicians and patients."

Heydarian and Barnes, along with PhD students Alan Wang, computer engineering, and Navreet Kaur, systems engineering, launched the project last fall by installing sensors in five designated rooms at UVA Health on 3 East. There were no patients in the rooms, so the sensors were able to collect baseline data of the changes in indoor environmental conditions. 

At the hospital, patient volunteers are now part of the study. They wear a smartwatch device to gather physiological, movement, and environmental data that researchers receive wirelessly. The team is also collecting more granular information about the changes in indoor environmental conditions, including noise and light levels as well as temperature and humidity, all of which play a part in room comfort and patients' ability to rest. The team will analyze all the data to better understand the different factors that may impact sleep quality among different patients.

Before launching this project, Heydarian had developed foundational research using different IEQ sensors and actuators, which make up a cyber-physical system, at UVA Engineering's Link Lab, work that is supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

In addition to quantitative data, Mattos and pediatric nurse practitioner Lisa Letzkus, an assistant professor in the UVA School of Medicine and UVA Health clinician, conducted a series of interviews with nurses to learn more about their general and specific practices for patient care, environmental conditions across different rooms, and other insightful information on patient sleep and comfort.”

As an outcome of this multidisciplinary collaboration, the team envisions introducing computer models that can be used to predict patients’ comfort in hospitals, and also provide feedback to clinicians on how specific combinations of conditions and practices can enhance patient care and clinical outcomes.