December 14, 2016

First SPARC competition shines a light on bright ideas

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education concept insideSPARC (Sourcing Progress & Advancing Research Collaboration), a UAB Medicine and Medscape innovation initiative, has produced three winners who will share $40,000 in grants for quality improvement projects.

A crowdsourcing effort created through the UAB and Medscape partnership, SPARC brings together scientists and clinical staff to develop educational activities that foster connections among educators, clinicians, and researchers for the benefit of both patients and practitioners. This partnership combines the expansive clinical and research expertise of UAB with the innovative and far-reaching educational offerings of Medscape’s online platform, which encompasses over 1.6 million active physicians, nurses, and pharmacists nationally.

The SPARC initiative was open to all UAB faculty and staff. Applicants submitted brief proposals through an online idea management platform and then developed formal proposals that were reviewed by Medscape and UAB subject matter experts. In October, individual participants or teams with the top six ideas presented their innovations to UAB Medicine and Medscape executives at an exclusive live event. Criteria for determining the winning ideas included population impact, alignment to strategic policy areas, and impact on interdisciplinary team performance.

The three winning projects, in no particular order, are: Improving Patient Access to Tobacco Use Treatment During Hospitalization (Susan Walley, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, and Kathy Harrington, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor of Medicine); Closing the Loop: A Systematic Plan for the Discharge Process (Blayke Gibson, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine); and Development of an Evidence-Based Tool that Would Define a Benchmark for End of Care and Initiation of Hospice for Patients With Hepatocellular Carcinoma With or Without Cirrhosis (Beth Comeaux, NP, UAB Hospital).

Walley and Harrington’s project aims to increase UAB Hospital patients’ self-referrals to the Tobacco Treatment Consult Service, as well as to establish consistency in screening for tobacco use (including e-cigarettes) at UAB Hospital and Children’s of Alabama. “We are pleased to receive this funding to increase tobacco-use screening, including electronic cigarettes, and to promote dependence treatment at University Hospital and Children's of Alabama,” Walley says. “Our goal is to improve not only the health of an individual tobacco user by treating their dependence, but to improve the health of their family and the entire community.”

Gibson’s idea is to convert the current paper “close the loop” patient discharge form into an electronic process that is streamlined with the electronic depart process within FirstNet and PowerChart. Providing comprehensive patient discharge instructions has proven to be an important task for providers. Patients tend to report higher levels of satisfaction when the discharge process is standardized and prioritized. Gibson recognizes that, as patient satisfaction becomes a more prevalent concern in health care, initiatives geared toward improved scores will be developed. “This grant opportunity will allow us to more quickly and efficiently incorporate the close the loop process into our current EMR, ensuring a smooth transition and improved compliance,” he says. “We are grateful to the SPARC program for the opportunity to improve our overall patient care and experience while furthering our departmental goal to be leaders across the health system.”

Comeaux envisions the development of an evidence-based tool that would help stratify patients who may benefit from life-prolonging therapies and those who will benefit more from hospice care. The tool would establish a benchmark that indicates when no further benefit is derived from liver-directed therapies, at which point a hospice referral would be triggered. “The outcomes from this research should improve our ability to confidently recommend therapies to those patients who will benefit, and also allow for earlier hospice referrals for patients whose liver cancer or liver function are too advanced for further care,” Comeaux says. “I’m not sure I would have turned this problem into a research project if I hadn’t been prompted by the SPARC challenge. I am very honored to have been chosen as a finalist.”

SPARC winners will be partnered with mentors from UAB and Medscape to develop needs assessments, education initiatives, and project outcomes, and they will present their findings to UAB and Medscape leadership in spring 2017.