Experts from different fields to confront health care challenges in new VCU program

The inaugural class of Langston Center for Innovation in Quality and Safety Affiliate Scholars Program will work together across disciplines to strategize and solve problems in health care.

A group of medical professionals in a meeting.
An interdisciplinary team of experts is coming together at the Langston Center. (Getty Images)

Virginia Commonwealth University is bringing together a team of innovation, quality and safety experts for a new program to address challenges in improving health care.

The Langston Center for Innovation in Quality and Safety’s Affiliate Scholars Program will induct its inaugural class of 18 members on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The scholars from several universities and health systems are prepared to advise the Langston Center on a variety of health care topics.

The Langston Center, housed in the VCU School of Nursing, promotes patient-centered, population-focused and cost-effective initiatives designed to improve health care.

The Affiliate Scholars Program will address challenges such as increasing coordination in health care teams, empowering patients to manage wellness with new technologies and accelerating the implementation of innovation. This environment of innovation can lead to better experiences for patients and learning opportunities for VCU’s nursing graduates, said Michael Bleich, Ph.D., director of the Langston Center.

“What this group represents is a bold willingness to make a positive impact on some of the most challenging problems in today’s health care environment,” Bleich said. “The range of expertise represented includes expertise in design thinking, quality and safety models, implementation science, measurement, product and device development, technology transfer, patient experience, organizational theory, curriculum development, policy and much more.”

Affiliate scholar Mary Coffey, Ph.D., director of ambulatory nursing at VCU Health and a VCU School of Nursing graduate, was in the first class of Langston’s Leadership Fellows Program. Coffey said she hopes this group can help health systems make the care process smoother from start to finish and develop strategies for interprofessional team collaboration that will impact the lives of patients and families.

“It’s been a lifelong interest – the scholars coming together to close the continuum of care, from the point a patient reaches out and needs something to the point that we’ve returned them home,” she said. “It’s not done in one unit or by one clerk or one doctor, but it’s all of us with a shared vision of caring.”

“I think that that’s really beneficial to students, particularly health care students, particularly nursing because nurses are the boots on the ground. You’re in the day-to-day workforce just trying to care for the sick and advance people’s wellness. But if you can have exposure to thoughts and ideas in real time and what’s working at other places ... that’s very meaningful.”

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center for Innovation, leads a team that fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration on projects across VCU. He said he hopes to bridge the knowledge gap among health care professionals and engineers, designers or business people who can help solve problems with fresh eyes.

“Being a Langston scholar means that I get to bring my expertise together with other experts across other sectors, including nursing, to work collaboratively on future solutions to really look at problems,” Westlake said. “And I’ve seen enough in the innovation space to know that the best innovations don’t come from a siloed approach or a couple of people with similar backgrounds and similar experiences coming up with something novel. It comes from diverse teams.”

Shelly Smith, D.N.P., director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program in the School of Nursing, has worked in cross-disciplinary teams as an educator, practitioner and translational research fellow in VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

She said the pace of implementing change in health care can take longer than in other fields. Smith said she sees the Langston scholars program as focused on implementation that translates into real-time change, which would benefit students from nursing and other disciplines.

“I think that’s really beneficial to students, particularly health care students, particularly in nursing because nurses are the boots on the ground,” said Smith, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems. “You’re in the day-to-day workforce just trying to care for the sick and advance people’s wellness. But if you can have exposure to thoughts and ideas in real time and what’s working at other places ... that’s very meaningful.”

“Being a Langston scholar means that I get to bring my expertise together with other experts across other sectors, including nursing, to work collaboratively on future solutions to really look at problems.”

Many technologies available for patients change in real time – a challenge Salvador Gullo Neto, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul School of Medicine in Brazil, is looking forward to addressing as a Langston scholar.

The visiting scholar at San Diego State University said his colleagues operate in a health care environment where patients are learning more about procedures before they have them. Understanding these technologies better from a patient safety and quality-of-care perspective will help providers educate patients so they can take part in their own well-being, Gullo Neto said.

The Langston Center focuses on building quality and safety into the conversation early in the process of developing new technologies for health care, Bleich said. Health care innovators – some of whom are in the Affiliate Scholars Program – can consult with the interdisciplinary panel of peer scholars on how to improve and expand the use of their new technologies.

Scholars also will work with the School of Nursing’s undergraduate leadership fellows who participate in the Richmond chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an organization dedicated to innovating and improving health care, hosted at the Langston Center.

“Since the first time that I knew about the Langston Center, I thought that it would be the perfect place to meet people with the same vision and goals that I have,” Gullo Neto said. “Everybody knows how hard it will be to rebuild health care, and the best way to do that is putting together professionals with different skills but the same wish to share ideas, projects and actions to achieve better results.”

The affiliate scholars induction ceremony follows Tuesday’s Bresenoff-Feierstein Innovations Lecture featuring speaker Bill Bishop, founder of the BIG Idea Co. The event, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the VCU College of Health Professions Auditorium (Room 1050), 900 E. Leigh St., is free and open to the public. RSVP to langstonctr@vcu.edu.

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