Health Network Tries Out
DS-3500 for Residency Program Focus Groups

Susan Hansen knows data.

The research associate at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Department of Family Medicine is a part of the Allentown, Pa.-based health system’s efforts to continuously improve its educational experience for Family Medicine physicians in training.

As one of 14 family medicine residency programs chosen to participate in a national pilot program from 2007 – 2012, LVHN’s Department of Family Medicine research team collected data for five years to track its efforts to improve graduate medical education. The initiative, called Preparing the Personal Physician for Practice (p4), was jointly sponsored by the American Board of Family Medicine and the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors.

LVHN’s family medicine residency program had been conducting focus groups with each resident cohort for years prior to entering the p4 pilot project. The goal of these sessions is twofold: to gather feedback for continuous improvement and to gauge residents’ educational progress at various stages of the program. By modifying a few questions to align with the p4 hypotheses, LVHN was able to use the focus groups as data points for that project as well.

“We ask residents about the main educational concepts, their on-site experiences at the family medicine practice sites, and their relationships with faculty, staff and each other,” Hansen said. “And then we pull that information together to evaluate our program’s methods for preparing residents for a career in family medicine.”

It’s a big job that requires quality data.

“Before p4,” said Hansen, “we used cassette recorders to capture the focus group discussions, but those recordings were good only for transcription purposes because they couldn’t be uploaded into our data analysis software.”

So in 2009, the department upgraded to digital recorders.

After four years of experience using various digital recorders, the residency program researchers had the opportunity to take the Olympus DS-3500 professional dictation device for a spin during two focus group sessions this past spring. Having gathered six to eight residents and two research team members for each session, Hansen conducted the focus groups in a small conference room around one long table. Hansen placed one DS-3500 on either end of the table to ensure no voice or comment would be missed.

It wasn’t. Thanks to the DS-3500’s speech-optimized, independently housed microphone, voices were captured flawlessly.

“One resident spoke very low and soft,” said Hansen, “so that was something I was concerned about – were we going to be able to pick up what she said? It turned out not to be an issue; I was able to decipher everything. [The DS-3500] picked up everything really well, even with a room air conditioner running.”

While Hansen’s team didn’t use the security features of the DS-3500, she said she could appreciate the option of device password protection and DSS Pro real-time 128- and 256-bit file encryption. In addition, Olympus Professional Dictation equipment is compliant with HIPAA and other privacy regulations.

“As a researcher, protecting data is very important to me,” said Hansen. “Because we conducted the groups on-campus and imported information to our system right away, we didn’t need to use the security features.”

Something else that Hansen considered a benefit? The light indicating that the device was operating in recording mode.

“It seems silly, but it was nice to be able to glance at the device during a focus group to make sure it was still recording. Not every recording device has that,” she said.

In addition, Hansen said it was helpful that the DS-3500 was easy to operate. “All I had to do was flip a switch to turn it on, push a button, and check to see that the light was glowing,” she said. With a limited amount of time to get through the list of focus group questions, Hansen appreciated the device’s reliability and quick start up.

The result? Hours of usable data that Hansen and her colleagues will analyze for clues about how to improve the education of LVHN family medicine residents and the care they provide to residents in the Lehigh Valley.