Spotlight on Engagement: Sara Fernandes-Taylor

Designing a smart phone app to improve outcomes after surgery

Lead Researcher: Sara Fernandes-Taylor, PhD; Department of Surgery, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health

Sara Fernandes-Taylor portrait
Sara Fernandes-Taylor (top right) with her family.

What is the focus of your research?

Our research program focuses on improving outcomes after vascular surgery. Specifically, we designed and pilot-tested a smartphone app that allows our vascular surgery patients who are recovering at home to take and send images of their postoperative wounds to providers. We used the images to monitor the wounds for signs of infection or other complication. Our app addressed a common problem in surgery where patients are unable to recognize early signs of wound complication and develop an advanced infection by the time they seek care. Our primary goal was to create an app that was accessible to novice smartphone users.

How has stakeholder engagement helped your project so far?

Stakeholder engagement allowed us to design recruitment materials, app content, and written instructions that are accessible to a majority of patients. In particular, the CARDS helped us to design an app that accommodated both patients using the app independently and patients who had a caregiver to help. In addition, we tailored instructions to the individual user’s level of smartphone experience, eyesight, and wound location. I am confident that we would not have achieved the high response rate and the incredible success of our app without the feedback of the CARDS. We also worked with WINRS to set up a Patient and Caregiver Advisory Board for another project. That group gave us incredibly helpful feedback on recruitment materials, the consent form and how to present the project to the public.

What is a lesson you’ve learned from your stakeholder engagement work?

Stakeholder engagement has been an invaluable and very humbling process. I am always surprised at the variability of perspectives and interpretations when a diverse group of people reviews our study materials. I have learned that there is no easy substitute for stakeholder engagement, and the enormous benefit to the quality of research more than justifies the additional effort.

What WINRS services have you used?

  • Three CARDS meetings: to review recruitment scripts/letters, content for a smart phone app and patient training program on use of smartphone app
  • Consulting to develop and deliver a targeted orientation program for Patient and Caregiver Advisory Board
  • Coaching on effective meeting agendas and activities to support stakeholder engagement