A quest for knowledge
By K. Richard Douglas
Benjamin Franklin once said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” That interest grows exponentially when an individual
advances the knowledge of a group of people or an entire field. When a biomed from India was able to enhance his knowledge in U.S. universities, he decided to return the favor through research and studies that he hopes will benefit all healthcare professionals.
Avinash Konkani, B.E., M.S., a doctoral candidate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., has already become well ingrained into the American HTM community. Through research, publications, awards, teaching and participating in committees, he has developed deep roots in the field and caught the attention of his peers.
Konkani grew up in Karnataka, the southwestern Indian state known for biotechnology and its software industry. He speaks five languages: Hindi, English and three regional dialects.
He is currently working towards a Ph.D in Systems Engineering with a special research focus in healthcare ergonomics. His research applies systems engineering concepts to the problem of alarm fatigue in hospital intensive care units. His dissertation, “Reduction of Hospital ICU Noise: A Systems Engineering Approach,” is finding a receptive audience. His research examines low cost methods to reduce the noise created by an increased number of false alarms from medical devices in the ICU.
A PATIENT ADVOCATE
Konkani’s father passed away because of a medical error made in a hospital. There was not an easy way to bring a medical malpractice suit in India at the time, so Konkani decided to enter healthcare and do something to benefit patients. After graduating from high school, he discovered that an engineering college in his hometown of Belgaum had just begun offering a Bachelor’s program in biomedical engineering. Konkani saw this as the path he would take.
His grandfather accompanied him to visit a professor in the new program. He liked the idea that he could find technology solutions that had the potential to help a lot of people.
“During my college days, I had taken courses in the engineering college and in a medical school, affiliated with a teaching hospital,” he says. “Thus, I had good exposure to medical devices as a student. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering and started looking at jobs in Indian hospitals.”
In a search for more opportunities, in 2001 Konkani moved from the small town where he lived to Bangalore. There, he attended an international conference on biomedical engineering that was sponsored by the India Institute of Science.
At the conference, he met the chair of biomedical engineering department at Wright State University, who urged Konkani to get a master’s degree. Konkani had felt some frustration with the state of biomedical engineering in India, and he was ready for a change.
“At that time, BME was a very new field and people had no idea of the role of the biomedical engineer in a hospital.”
“I started communicating with [Wright] through emails, and then I applied and came to the U.S. in February of 2003.” Konkani attended Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio, where he studied in Human Factors Engineering (HFE) applications in healthcare.
After receiving his master’s degree in biomedical engineering from WSU, Konkani returned to India. He got a job as a biomedical engineer at
KLES Hospital and Medical Research Center, one of the largest hospitals in the country where he had previously studied while working on his first biomedical engineering de
gree. Konkani appreciated the opportunity to live near family again in the area where he had grown up.After a short tenure at the hospital, Konkani moved to another part of India to take a job as a professor. “I started teaching biomedical engineering to undergraduate students in the state of Orissa. I spent three years teaching biomedical engineering, and I am very happy to have produced so many biomedical engineers,” Konkani says. “Around 100 biomedical engineering students have been taught under me. Most of them are working as biomedical or clinical engineers. I feel very proud. I have contributed something to the field indirectly.”
FATE COMES KNOCKING
With his passion for biomedical engineering and first-hand experience in both the hospital and the classroom, Konkani decided that teaching would be part of his future. To become a full professor generally requires a Ph.D. degree. Konkani wanted more information, so he found and read a book edited by Dr. Barbara Oakley of Oakland University called “Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.”
Once again, email proved to be a useful medium to transverse the many miles, and after several communications with Oakley and application to the doctoral program, he was accepted. Oakley became his Ph.D. advisor.
Konkani has since been involved in research, publications, awards, teaching and participating in committees. He has authored articles in the April and May issues of TechNation. He has co-authored an article with Oakley for the Journal of Critical Care and written articles for the AAMI blog and AAMI’s Biomedical Instrumentation and Technology publication.
Konkani was awarded the Michael J. Miller scholarship in 2012 and works as a graduate teaching and research assistant at Oakland University. He holds honorary positions as a junior associate editor of the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine and as a member of the AAMI Clinical Alarm Steering Committee. He has been awarded the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation’s 2013 Excellence in Research Award for Students and been an advocacy award winner for 2013 for the student paper competition for the American College of Clinical Engineering.
From his days in Karnataka to strolls across the campus of Oakland University, Konkani has not let up on the accelerator.
Konkani plans to eventually work in the medical devices industry or in a hospital as a clinical and human factors engineer. He also plans to continue teaching in a university setting. “I would like to give back for all the things I have gained in the U.S. because, while getting my masters degree and my Ph.D also, the U.S. has given me so much support. Now I feel I should give back. I would like to work for the betterment of the field and the betterment of patient safety.”