@MI2Innovation Making Healthcare Safety Contagious

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On October 16th, Allan Fong MS, Raj Ratwani PhD and Sarah Henrickson Parker PhD from the MedStar Health Institute for Innovation Human Factors Engineering group will travel to New York City as one of eight teams selected from over 250 entrants who submitted healthcare innovation projects to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Project. The team’s project, entitled Creating a Social Epidemic of Safety, aims to harness the power of natural social networks within healthcare organizations to identify those who can influence an epidemic of safety. In their words:

In healthcare, we try change culture through training, meetings 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…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.


Following is a brief explanation of the RWJF Pioneer Project, which explains the type of projects they are looking to fund.

Judges for the Pitch include healthcare innovators such as Ben Sawyer (Co-Founder Games for Health project funded by the RWJF Pioneer Portfolio), Ben Heywood (Co-Founder & President of PatientsLikeMe) and Thomas Goetz (RWJF Entrepreneur-in-Residence & previous executive editor, Wired Magazine).

Best of luck to Allan, Raj and Sarah, as this very important work builds upon theories established by the research of Nicholas Christakis, MD and James Fowler, PhD (@JamesFowler), 2 time RWJF Pioneer Portfolio grantees, also discussed in an Educate the Young post, The Power of Social Networks to Change Health Behavior. As chronic disease with behaviorally-based contributing factors continues to haunt both providers and payers, these more socially driven health solutions could prove to be the holy grail of healthcare. If nothing else, it’s a departure from a norm that isn’t working, and strives to use human connections in meaningful ways. Human connection, aka social support, has been shown time and time again to have measurable impact in a number of domains such as happiness, longevity, health and exercise. There is definitely something to be said for the “strength in numbers” approach when looking to spread culture change, especially in a system hard-wired by the past. By purposefully connecting those in healthcare with colleagues having an ability to catalyze meaningful change, those networks driven to impart safety messages and behaviors can gain the strength and power to overcome the inertia of a status quo.

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