Dr. Vineet Arora Equips a Safer, Better Health System for All

If you ask Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, why she is steadfastly committed to improving patient safety, she'll say she was put on the path early in life.

A medical error made during her mother's pregnancy resulted in her brother being born with a birth defect. This set Dr. Arora on a path to elevate the conversation about patient safety and bring it to the forefront of medical education, medical systems, and patient self-advocacy efforts.

"Growing up with somebody who had high needs in our household, I got to experience medicine up close as a patient, caregiver, and an advocate. That medical error made me think and reflect on the field of medicine and how to make it better, particularly with advancing a more patient-focused experience and training doctors to focus on that," Dr. Arora said.

Dr. Arora is an academic hospitalist and medical educator who specializes in improving the learning environment for medical trainees and the quality, safety and experience of care delivered to hospitalized adults.

She graduated from The Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor's degree in biology, received her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a master's degree in public policy from Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

As a daughter of immigrants and a medical student, she was not prepared for the sleep deprivation that was par for the course for medical students who had no cap on clinical hours. She was quick to identify the impact it had on her ability to perform and that she lacked the resources to adapt and care for herself under those circumstances.

"I had a really hard time with sleep deprivation. It's a learned art. When I was a resident, I thought a lot about not only how to improve education, but how to improve the physical well-being of those providing care. I believe that if you're not well yourself, you cannot have empathy to deliver good care," said Arora, adding that she was also struck by the chaotic nature of shift-change handoffs, especially after being on the receiving end of a bad one.

Dr. Arora has led pioneering work on resident sleep, fatigue and handoffs that have informed changes in residency duty hours. In 2017, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) required handoff training and much of Dr. Arora's work was referenced in that policy change.

She is also: The principal investigator of an AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education grant to integrate health systems science into medical education; a Josiah Macy Faculty Scholar for her work improving the interprofessional clinical learning environment at UChicago Medicine; and has received National Institutes of Health funding to study and improve sleep for patients as they transition from hospital to home. Her academic work has been cited more than 10,000 times.

Now, as the Dean for Medical Education at the University of Chicago Pritzer School of Medicine, Dr. Arora's leadership lens is broad. She oversees the medical education program for undergraduate students, the graduate medical education for all its 1,000 residents and fellows and continuing medical education and simulation practices.

"We're (health systems) are only as good as our people. We haven't valued our people and we've ceded that control to finances. Procedures are important, but when you overvalue the hustle-and-bustle instead of the quality of the interaction, we aren't valuing the patients or healthcare staff. That has been going on, but COVID-19 exposed it," Dr. Arora said.Dr. Arora's health system recently hired its first chief wellness officer, and also enhanced the benefit package of its residents in response to the pandemic.

COVID-19 also shined a blinding spotlight on inequities in health care by exposing the increased health risk faced by Black and Hispanic patients and healthcare workers, as well as the inequities women in the workforce were confronted with when the world, including schools and childcare centers, shut down.

"The Great Resignation has been marked by a she-cession. Women are leaving, and we need to think about that, especially in regard to women of color, who already face barriers and oppression to their intersectional identity," she said.

To address this, Dr. Arora co-led a team to receive a grant from the Walder Foundation to establish a COVID-19 fund to support retention of physician scientists whose careers were impacted by their caregiving responsibilities. Most recently, she has co-launched a lecture series, funded by MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, to raise awareness around gender equity, including a focus on gender expression and identity given the attacks on those who provide healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community.

Much of Dr. Arora's work has also been focused on Electronic Health Record optimization, which she believes is another important contributor to enhancing patient safety and experience.

As a member of the Joint Commission, she believes in the value of accreditation and the commission's current work to revisit some of the redundancies in standards. Dr. Arora believes the greatest goal of the National Patient Safety Board is elevating the conversation about patient safety so the public and legislators understand its importance, but also guiding the best practices for the use of data collected to improve patient safety.

When asked about the next iteration of patient safety technology, Dr. Arora is quick to cite the importance and untapped possibilities of wearables and collecting ambient data to identify the signals that occur before incidents occur.

"The next step would be the merging of wearables, data, and AI, but also bringing the information to clinicians to make informed decisions with patients," Arora said. "Healthcare is delivered in the home. Ninety nine percent of healthcare occurs everywhere but the doctor's office and hospital, so we need to learn how to mine that world." 

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