Students help healthcare organizations improve quality

UT Physicians project team (Pictured above from left to right) Yen-Chi Le, PhD, assistant director of the UT Physician Healthcare Transformation Initiative, Ida Ansah, Celine Lee, Erica Johnson, Adam Tapper and Stephen Simington

UT Physicians project team (Pictured above from left to right) Yen-Chi Le, PhD, assistant director of the UT Physician Healthcare Transformation Initiative, Ida Ansah, Celine Lee, Erica Johnson, Adam Tapper and Stephen Simington

HOUSTON – Each semester, students in the healthcare management program’s Evaluation and Improvement of Healthcare Quality class work in teams to plan and implement a quality improvement project at a Texas healthcare organization.

“The assignment offers students a unique opportunity for hands-on learning and to oversee a quality improvement project from start to finish,” says Lee Revere, PhD, who teaches the class along with Jennifer Tektiridis, PhD, at UTHealth School of Public Health’s Houston campus.

For a glimpse of the wide variety of challenges our students tackle, take a look at these two recent projects:

Improving pediatric fitness and nutrition

Healthcare management student Stephen Simington, who is also a master’s student at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics studying data analytics, is part of a team working to increase immunization rates and improve physical activity and nutrition metrics for pediatric patients at a UT Physicians clinic. Their goal is to help the clinic earn recognition as a patient-centered medical home, a team-based primary care delivery model designed to improve care and patient experience while reducing costs. 

After meeting with the clinic’s care team and analyzing the clinic’s workflow, Simington and his teammates recommended tweaking how the clinic logged a fitness and nutrition questionnaire into the clinic’s electronic health record system. They also suggested ways to improve wait times and patient communication. The team will give clinic staff a report outlining their full recommendations at the end of the semester.

Simington says the experience taught him the importance of developing positive work relationships and being adaptable. He hopes to land a job in project management IT after graduating.

“Having something like this class, where you can actually go out and apply what you’ve learned is extremely helpful for understanding how organizations work in the real world,” he says. “And having access to actual top tier hospital systems and working in those systems, is great for your career and future prospects.”

Human trafficking project team (pictured from left to right): Melissa Martinez, Caroline Smith and Mollie Ewing (not pictured: Robert Icenogle from San Antonio)

Human trafficking project team (pictured from left to right): Melissa Martinez, Caroline Smith and Mollie Ewing (not pictured: Robert Icenogle from San Antonio)

Raising awareness of human trafficking

Caroline Smith’s group worked with the Texas Department of State Health Services on a new project targeting human trafficking of children, to increase awareness and interventions in 11 public health regions within Texas.

The project’s goal is to, “educate public health workers, healthcare staff and stakeholders to better identify potential victims, and once identified, provide them with resources they can use in their time of need,” Smith says.

Her team is focusing on improving the DSHS's current educational resource, a "train the trainer" program. The group is also developing a new suite of training materials and curriculum based on feedback from the initial participants of the training sessions to distribute to doctor’s offices, hospitals and other healthcare organizations.

Currently, Smith is a graduate research assistant with the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, where she’s helping Texas employers develop policies that support breastfeeding mothers. She has also worked as an Americorps volunteer and as a supervisor for a public charter high school for adults. Given her diverse background, Smith says she appreciates the chance to work on a project, “outside of the standard healthcare bubble.”

“I wasn’t expecting to get a project about human trafficking,” she says. “But it’s really shown me how broad and all-encompassing health management can be. It’s also helpful, being able to apply the concepts we’re learning in class into our projects. We’re learning all these tools for evaluation and analyzation and improvement, and we’re actually applying them to our project to help them (organizations) improve.”