Faculty profile: Ben-Tzion Karsh
took an entire bachelor's degree worth of required psychology courses at UW-Madison, it was
Introduction to Human Factors (
The rest, as they say, is history. After a unique postdoctoral experience in which he spent half his time studying how quality improvement programs affect nursing home patient care and employees' job satisfaction, and the other half in an agricultural ergonomics project designing and publicizing better tools and technologies for small-scale farmers, Karsh joined the IE faculty this year.
Karsh has applied human factors engineering to such service industries as government and manufacturing, but the postdoctoral nursing home study piqued his interest in employing the same principles in health care. "To date, that has been one of the most exciting projects I have worked on, because health care is, of course, very personal," he says. "All of us go through the health care system."
In his first recent project related to health care, Karsh, Family Medicine Professor John Beasley, IE Professor Pascale Carayon and former IE Professor François Sainfort examined family physicians' quality of work life. The group suspected that, with the advent of managed care, the nature of the physicians' work and ability to make decisions had changed. Traditionally, says Karsh, physicians had control over what drugs they could prescribe, to whom they could refer patients, how much time they could spend with each patient, what kinds of treatments they could give, and other factors. However, in managed care, administrative or business units often make those decisions.
When the group distributed a quality-of-life survey to every physician in Wisconsin, nearly 50 percent of them answered it. Their responses confirmed what the group expected: Many physicians were in some way dissatisfied with their jobs and on a blank page at the back of the survey, many described in detail why. "We had volumes that people wrote to us, all basically confirming what was in the survey," says Karsh. When the researchers are finished analyzing the data, they plan to form a cooperative among all the affected groups to share both the study's results and possible solutions.
Karsh and Beasley also recently began investigating more effective medical error reporting systems within the family medicine community. With input from health care workers, the two hope to design a system so that workers in clinics far apart can report confidentially to a central location. The system isn't a tool for assigning blame for errors, though. "We really want to use this as a feedback mechanism to help family physicians and the nurses and other clinicians who work with them basically prevent errors by having people share what has already happened to them," says Karsh.
Despite his recent interest in health care, Karsh hasn't lost touch with the ergonomics side of his research. Currently he is working with IE and Biomedical Engineering Professor Rob Radwin on a project to model the risk of upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders in automobile manufacturing plants. To collect data, Radwin and Karsh are using a multimedia job analysis technique developed by IE assistant scientist Tom Yen. The system videotapes workers doing a variety of jobs, then Yen digitizes the video and feeds it into a job-analysis software that makes it easy to quantify specific tasks, motions or job cycles. "The great thing about using the multimedia job analysis is that because it gives us the ability to really code an array of postures and things, this will be probably one of the more comprehensive models that have ever been done," says Karsh.
Based on that research, he is developing a graduate seminar about workplace interventions to control musculoskeletal disorders, which he will teach in spring. Karsh also will team-teach
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