University of Virginia Incorporates HCUP Data Into Academic Curriculum
At the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Elizabeth Merwin, PhD, RN, FAAN, has designed course content and student projects using AHRQ's HCUPnet and the HCUP-Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) database.
Merwin teaches courses on health services research, analysis of secondary data, resource management, and quality and cost evaluation to masters and doctoral students. Her courses focus on teaching students how to identify research questions, query large databases, and collect data sets for analysis.
In her course titled "Database Management: Analysis of Secondary Data," she has asked students to use HCUPnet or the HCUP NIS to determine demographic and utilization characteristics of patients treated for a particular diagnosis. In so doing, students learn how to use data sets and apply analytic skills to answer their own clinical questions.
HCUPnet, an on-line query system, is available free of charge to all users. To access the HCUP NIS and all other HCUP databases, all users, including students, are required to read and sign a Data Use Agreement.
"The HCUP databases and tools are particularly valuable to me as an educator, because I can present a health care problem or research question and teach fundamental skills based on using real data that emphasizes the importance and significance of the investigations," says Merwin. "Often the generic research question is modified by asking each student to choose a particular patient population (defined by diagnosis or procedure) as a focus."
In addition to her classes taught on campus, Merwin also designed a Web-based course on Resource Management as part of the Health Systems Management distance education graduate program. The program makes graduate nursing education available to nurses practicing in rural regions of Virginia.
"With the extra challenges of distance education, HCUPnet is a resource I can make available to students across the state of Virginia," Merwin notes. She also cites the need for only basic statistical knowledge and few "technical difficulties" as other strengths of HCUPnet.
Merwin has used HCUPnet, the HCUP NIS database and other AHRQ tools for more than a decade. "I hope to help students begin to understand the value and scope of clinical research. I seek to make the tools of clinical research—such as large data sets—accessible to students so that they begin to think with the data to generate new questions and applications of the information obtained."