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Catherine Burns
Systems Design Engineering Professor

Catherine BurnsWhen patients go to Credit Valley Hospital complaining of sore joints, there’s a chance their care will involve a rheumatology tool developed by Catherine Burns.

The systems design engineering professor, along with doctoral candidate Tom Robinson and three co-op students, began working on the software tool in May 2009. Its purpose is to eliminate extra paperwork so rheumatologists can spend their time treating arthritis patients. The tool also helps track how patients respond to treatment.

“It’s really an opportunity to make a difference,” says Burns. “We see our results help people work better, safer and more productively.”

Part of the tool’s beauty is its simplicity. Andrew Chow, the rheumatologist who worked with Burns, has patients answer questions to find out if they can, say, reach a fivepound bag of sugar from overhead. He then clicks on problematic joints on a clickable computerized person. Comparing new with old summaries of patients’ questionnaire responses and sore joint lists show if symptoms have changed. Until now, tracking has been done only on paper.

Burns is gearing up for the project’s second phase that will deal with electronic health records and other database systems. For the first phase, Bristol Myers Squibb Canada financially supported the project and was involved in design.

“It has been terrific to work so directly with such engaged partners,” she says. “It’s the partnership that really makes this kind of research possible.”