Introducing the Pitch Day Finalists: Creating a Social Epidemic of Safety

Oct 8, 2013, 8:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Safety is contagious, says the team at MedStar Health. Their vision calls for leveraging existing social networks within health care to create a social epidemic of safety. They were one of eight finalists invited to pitch us their ideas live and in person at the first-ever Pioneer Pitch Day. MedStar Health was one of the three presenters invited to submit a full proposal for potential funding. Read the team's 1,000-character proposal below, and join the discussion on Twitter at #pioneerpitch.

The MedStar Health team that will be presenting at Pitch Day includes Sarah Henrickson Parker, PhD, Allan Fong, MS, and Raj Ratwani, PhD. You can follow MedStar Health on Twitter at  @Mi2innovation.

Pioneer: Congratulations on being Pitch Day finalists! How did you hear about Pioneer Pitch Day?

MedStar Health Team: We heard about Pioneer Pitch Day through our social network -- surprised? Yeah, we weren’t either. We were fortunate to have connected with the Pioneer Portfolio through colleagues at MedStar’s Institute for Innovation, and to have Christine Nieves Rodriguez visit our Center in June. During her visit, she explained more about the goals of the Pioneer Portfolio, and we were pretty excited about the team’s focus on ideas that move beyond incremental improvement in healthcare.  When we got an email about the opportunity to submit to Pitch Day, we jumped on it.

Pioneer: What made you decide to submit your idea to Pioneer Pitch Day?

MedStar Health Team: The idea of deliberately creating a social epidemic of safety has been a slow hunch that we have been pursuing. Our idea is to leverage the power of already existing relationships and use them to make a difference to the safety of patients receiving care in hospitals. We submitted because the idea is not a traditional “NIH-type” idea, but something that could be extremely high-yield for patients.

Pioneer: Tell us about the origins of your idea for creating a social epidemic of safety.

MedStar Health Team: Our idea grew from intense discussions focused on patient safety. Each of us, with our varied experiences in social behavior, clinical team work, modeling, sensors, human factors, psychology and engineering, view and approach this issue through a different lens which helps each of us to think outside of our individual boxes.  We have been percolating the idea of using social network analysis to identify the patient safety movers and shakers within clinical settings. This call gave us the opportunity to crystallize some of those nebulous ideas into a plan to not only identify these individual influencers, but also to take it to the next step and try to influence them.

Pioneer: What do you believe is the most innovative aspect of your idea?

MedStar Health Team: In health care, we try change culture through lectures and seminars on how to be safe. But we are convinced that at the sharp end of care, where the rubber meets the road, it’s actually relationships -- not lectures or signs on the wall -- that influence people’s actions. Previous research in the social sciences has shown time and again how difficult it is to change human behavior; but it has also shown that if people are going to change their behavior, it’s because of the power of social influence. We believe the most innovative aspect of our idea is using a data-driven approach to determine these relationships and to then deliberately influence them to improve safety.

Pioneer: Who is an innovative thinker who has inspired your own work – why and how?

MedStar Health Team: The power of relationships has been shown in other domains, such as law enforcement, health and obesity research, and counterinsurgency. The leaders in these fields, such as Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, Dan Ariely, April Zeoli at Michigan State, Jeffrey Braithwaite in Australia, Malcolm Gladwell and others have inspired us to think about the power of relationships, and the power of social epidemics to influence behavior. These thinkers have taken the first steps of determining how to identify social networks, but we want to take the next leap and use the network to influence behavior. (Editor’s Note: Nicholas Christakis is a Pioneer grantee; you can read our Q&A with him here.)

Proposal Submission: Creating a Social Epidemic of Safety

Did you know the safest part of your visit to the hospital is your drive? Conservative estimates suggest 98k patients die annually in hospitals across the country from preventable error. We will change this by showing that safe care is contagious. Patient safety is fundamentally tied to the culture of the clinical staff. Changing culture involves not just implementing best practices, but correctly targeting the influencers and connectors in social networks. By utilizing technological advances in sociometric measurement and analysis to identify and target social influencers within a healthcare system, we will use their influence to improve safety. With expertise in human factors, sociometrics, healthcare and influence our team is poised to create lasting culture change. Our proposal leverages existing social networks within healthcare to create a social epidemic of safety. At some point, each one of us will be a patient –lets create the best and safest care possible together.

Got a pioneering idea of your own? We’d love to hear from you.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.