Stories about: quality improvement

Stem cell medicine gets a “roadmap” and a quality assurance tool

cell fate map Boston subway
Credit: Samantha Morris, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital

If you’ve lost your way on the Boston subway, you need only consult a map to find the best route to your destination. Now stem cell engineers have a similar map to guide the making of cells and tissues for disease modeling, drug testing and regenerative medicine. It’s a computer algorithm known as CellNet.

As in this map on the cover of Cell, a cell has many possible destinations or “fates,” and can arrive at them through three main stem cell engineering methods:

reprogramming (dialing a specialized cell, such as a skin cell, back to a stem-like state with full tissue-making potential)
differentiation (pushing a stem cell to become a particular cell type, such as a blood cell)
direct conversion (changing one kind of specialized cell to another kind)

Freely available on the Internet, CellNet provides clues to which methods of cellular engineering are most effective—and acts as a much-needed quality control tool.

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Tracking what happens between clinic visits: Will it improve care?

Tracking patients between clinical visits
A randomized trial will soon test whether web-based updates from parents and teachers improve outcomes in ADHD, autism and more.
Eugenia Chan, MD, MPH, is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and health services researcher in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. She runs the Developmental Medicine Centers ADHD Program and is co-developer of ICISS Health, a web-based disease monitoring and management system.

When I set out with my collaborator Eric Fleegler, MD, MPH, to build a web-based tracking system for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), we focused on a single problem—getting parents and teachers to fill out symptom questionnaires in time to help doctors make informed clinical decisions at follow-up visits. We had no inkling of the possibilities that this kind of software platform could hold, or how it might grow in the future.

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‘Report cards’ help children’s hospitals improve appendicitis care

Checklist report card improving appendicitis care at pediatric hospitalsWith appendicitis readmissions rates at some hospitals as high as 30 percent for children with severe disease, a group of children’s hospitals has started handing out comparative performance report cards to grade the way they diagnose and treat the condition. The quarterly reports are tools for hospitals to examine their performance across the entire scope of appendicitis care, prioritize quality improvement efforts and establish best practices.

According to Shawn Rangel, MD, a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, the report cards grew out an effort to “understand high rates of preventable readmissions for complicated appendicitis.” A few years ago, Rangel and his colleagues began comparing appendicitis readmission rates at hospitals in the Children’s Hospital Association. The researchers found that the rate of kids readmitted within 30 days ranged from a low of 5 percent to a high of 30 percent for children with severe (ruptured) appendicitis.

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In the ICU, nurse experience and education can mean life or death

Morning rounds on the pediatric cardiac ICU.
Morning rounds on the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.

Registered nurses (RNs) remain the largest group of health care providers and typically account for the greatest share of most U.S. hospitals’ operating budgets, about 60 percent. In adult hospitals, research has shown a consistently positive effect of increasing percentages of nurses with baccalaureate educations, and linked increased RN staffing and healthy work environments with improved patient outcomes.

However, this assessment has not been conducted in children’s hospitals—until now.

In a study in the Journal of Nursing Administration, nursing leaders from 38 free-standing children’s hospitals explored which nursing and organizational characteristics influence mortality for children undergoing congenital heart surgery.

The study, involving 20,407 pediatric patients and 3,413 pediatric critical care nurses, was led by Patricia Hickey, PhD, MBA, RN, from the Heart Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In pediatrics, congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect requiring surgical intervention for survival. Due to their critical care needs, these patients consume a disproportionate share of U.S. hospital resources.

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Are pediatric patients being discharged before they’re ready?

Parents' perceptions of their child's health are a good predictor of hospital readmission.Because unplanned hospital readmissions put patients at risk, burden families and add to the cost of health care, many medical professionals are taking steps to reduce them. To push the effort, new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rules impose escalating penalties that decrease a hospital’s Medicare payments if patients are readmitted within 30 days of discharge.

Last week on Vector, we reported research suggesting that some readmissions may be incorrectly classified as preventable (and thereby penalized), particularly at pediatric hospitals. But what steps can be taken to reduce the number of truly preventable readmissions?

One step, highlighted here last week, is making post-discharge communications much simpler with texts and emails. But how can hospitals make sure their patients are ready to go home? A new study published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care finds that in pediatric settings, the answers may be found in parents’ perceptions, which turn out to be good predictors of an unplanned readmission.

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Scaling up quality improvement: How do we motivate providers?

Engaging clinicians in change will require a cultural shift. (David Oliva/Wikimedia Commons)
Engaging clinicians in change will require a cultural shift. (David Oliva/Wikimedia Commons)
Alyssa Bianca Velasco, ScB, is a clinical data specialist for the Standardized Clinical Assessment and Management Plans (SCAMPs) program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Reducing health care costs doesn’t have to involve making sacrifices in patient safety or quality of care or holding clinicians to rigid guidelines. Over the past several years, Boston Children’s Hospital has rolled out a methodology known as Standardized Clinical Assessment and Management Plans (SCAMPs). Described in the May issue of Health Affairs, SCAMPs are based on the idea that clinicians should be able to diverge from established medical best practices, provided they document the reasons and track the results—in essence making continual data-driven modifications to practice.

The success of SCAMPs in reducing practice variability and costs and improving outcomes at Boston Children’s has led other institutions, one by one, to adopt them. In the next phase, we plan to expand SCAMPs much more broadly, creating a network of hospitals that will pool pertinent clinical data into a centralized non-profit institution, the Institute for Relevant Clinical Data Analytics (IRCDA).

I am part of a team that is providing training, analytics and IT support to help make that large-scale implementation happen.

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Science and innovation: top 10 for 2010

In my job as a science writer at Children’s, I comb the organization for interesting science and innovation stories that we can push out to various audiences. At the turn of the year, my colleagues ask me to recommend what I see as our top stories. We present this list to funders, industry and physicians who refer patients to us as a way to build our relationships. Today I’m sharing my 2010 list directly with you.

A couple of caveats:

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