City Tech and Merck Establish Partnership to Bring Nursing Care into Age of Cutting-Edge Technology

November 1, 2011 | New York City College of Technology

Brooklyn, NY — Professor Patricia A. Cholewka, a nursing technology expert at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), was busy developing and implementing a new teaching model to prepare student nurses for the health care technology revolution when she read about a series of mobile apps Merck had launched to help patients manage ailments ranging from cancer to diabetes to migraines.

“I phoned Merck after reading the article, ‘Your Health? Merck Has an App for That’ in InformationWeek last fall,” Dr. Cholewka says, “and proposed a private-public partnership for a work-study pilot with the Merck IT Innovation group.

“This is exactly what I had envisioned for City Tech’s nursing students to supplement their coursework and develop insight into the business world,” Dr. Cholewka adds.

“Many academic, government and corporate leaders are recommending business-university partnerships for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. I believe nursing should also be involved in these public-private education initiatives.”

The Merck/City Tech work-study internship program started this fall with three students from the bachelor’s degree in nursing program — Ebony Boyd and Kevin Vassall (both from Canarsie, Brooklyn) and Sidela Johnson (from Staten Island) — all of whom are already New York State Registered Nurses, chosen by Merck to participate. The students will engage in research and experiments with Merck and are also learning the business aspects of what is involved in working as a team to design, implement and manage health care IT, both at Merck and in health care settings.

These experiments might include developing patient teaching and/or patient care apps and identifying them for successful integration and user acceptance prior to deployment on Web servers, mobile handheld devices for medication administration, patient-to-nurse communication regarding pain and disease management or patient tele-monitoring, to name a few. The students will complete most of the work online, with occasional trips to Merck’s Whitehouse, NJ headquarters. The City Tech students will be joining phone conversations and working virtually with Merck’s offices in Switzerland, Japan and Denmark on IT projects.

“My participation will broaden my perception of nursing by adding an industrial focus,” says Boyd. Vassall echoes her sentiment, adding, “My participation will help me to better understand the use of IT in health care.”

According to Dr. Cholewka, “This initiative will train nursing students to fully engage in the unfolding digital era.” The new Merck mobile phone apps  — “iManage Migraine” (a free app identified by InformationWeek as number one of 15 Mobile Apps for Better Health), “Vree for Diabetes” and “iChemoDiary” — “represent a useful and creative use of health care technology that would appeal to students,” Dr. Cholewka adds.

As technology is dramatically altering the ways doctors and nurses diagnose, treat, care and manage patients, Dr. Cholewka has been particularly busy in her work for the Department of Nursing at City Tech. Nursing professors must explore new ways to teach in this fast-paced environment of emerging technology, which is converging with the day-to-day world of health care and re-engineering the way health care is delivered.

The Merck Global Human Health IT Innovation group is collaborating with universities to put together a consortium of professors with an interest in health care technology. So far, in addition to City Tech, Merck is working with Lehigh University, Temple University, Raritan County College and Lugano University in Switzerland.

Earlier this month, the three City Tech student participants traveled to Merck headquarters to meet with Alan J. Lowenstein, the company’s director of innovation, Global Human Health IT, who explained his department’s focus. He also told them that they were the first nursing group with which Merck is connecting for input into the development of apps. The students then joined a Skype conference with a Merck site in Denmark.

The City Tech-Merck partnership was set up last spring when Merck Innovation Analysts Ralph Eddy Daniel and Jasdip Kaur and Program Manager John Schreiber visited City Tech to meet Dr. Cholewka and the City Tech administration to discuss the creation of the work-study pilot. “For Merck, the student work-study program will allow for a fresh infusion of thoughts and ideas,” says Daniel.

In fact, nurses have particularly valuable insights and unique abilities to contribute to health-related innovation projects because they are closely connected to patients and doctors, and they are the single largest segment of the health care workforce — with more than three million employed in the United States alone — according to the Institute of Medicine.

The City Tech student nurses and Merck IT professionals will collaborate to develop new mobile apps and perhaps other innovations, such as game apps for Facebook, electronic guidance for medicine administration, avatars and video messages, Schreiber says, noting that the apps may be available in multiple languages.

“Basically, we will combine cutting-edge technology and health care to better meet and advance health needs,” Schreiber adds.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.