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Professor to study team dynamics in healthcare settings

August 26, 2009

Arizona State University is helping to build the healthcare workplace of the future for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

In June, applied psychology professor Nancy Cooke learned that the proposal she collaborated on was chosen as one of four national Veterans Engineering Resource Centers (VERC), a 27-month $5.7 million project. The VERC project will help the VHA develop more effective and efficient ways to provide care at the nearly 1,400 Veterans Administration medical centers and clinics located across the U.S., especially those in rural areas.

Cooke and graduate students will collaborate with experts from medicine, operational systems engineering and human factors in academic and healthcare settings, including four Veterans Integrated Service Networks, located throughout the Midwest and mountain regions. Together, these units make up the MidWest, Mountain VERC (MWM-VERC), based in Omaha, Neb., and covers VHA facilities located in 16 states.

Cooke and students will provide cognitive engineering and human factors expertise to the team. Specifically, they will conduct research to improve team effectiveness and coordination in medical emergencies, virtual settings and among teams of caregivers, and will provide input to improve the safety, usability and effectiveness of electronic medical records.

“This center provides applied psychology faculty members, and ASU more generally, with a connection to the rapidly growing domain of healthcare human factors,” says Cooke, director of the Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks Lab at ASU. “Not only does the center provide a network of collaborators for applied psychology, but it also provides a funding vehicle to support joint research activities as well as cross training in this discipline for students and postdocs.”

Cooke is on the leadership team for the MWM-VERC, and will participate in a VERC workshop in Omaha in September to educate VHA collaborators on cognitive engineering and human factors. Cooke also anticipates being involved in four proposed VERC projects – coordination of care across the continuum; systems redesign of virtual collaboration and team support; electronic health record documentation; and teamwork during emergencies.

Cooke’s role in these projects will be to apply her research in cognitive engineering and her methods for analyzing communication and assessing team cognition to these problems.

“The projects will produce healthcare solutions, such as protocols for team training and technologies that will then be shared with other VHA facilities,” says Cooke. “And students will be well-versed in the dynamics of health systems and will gain valuable skills that can serve the rapidly growing field of human factors of healthcare.”

For information, contact professor Cooke at (480) 988-2173 or

Chris Lambrakis,
(480) 727-1173
Public Affairs at ASU Polytechnic campus