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Salk Fellows pitch solutions to transform medical error

Tamera Means, MD, MHS presents at the Salk Health Activist Fellowship Finale on November 21.

On November 21, over 60 people gathered at the QIT Center to attend the 2019 Salk Health Activist Fellowship Finale to hear five fellows pitch their political platform to address medical error. The invite-only event featured a diverse cast of judges, ranging from clinicians and experts on medical error to political consultants and representatives from regional elected offices. They were tasked with voting on the pitch most likely to inspire action. In addition to 17 in-person expert judges, Leah Binder, MA, MGA, President and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, and Jayne O'Donnell, a USA Today reporter specializing in medical error, participated remotely.

Every year, the Salk Health Activist Fellowship seeks to broaden professional networks and instill in young healthcare professionals the skills and knowledge to advocate for improvements in our healthcare system. With the upcoming 2020 elections, the Fellowship focused this year on building convincing political platforms. Though health care remains hotly contested, candidates have yet to mention critical issues in medical error. To spur action on reducing medical error, fellows were tasked with creating a campaign platform and a compelling pitch, learning campaigning, polling, and messaging skills which broadened their activism toolkit.

Fellows had the opportunity to share about their experience in the Fellowship with the guest judges at the Finale.

The five speakers were elected by their peers following earlier presentations from all 27 Fellows. Pitches covered a range of policy approaches to address the persistent issue of medical error.

  • Tamera Means, MD, MHS, a clinical researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Critical Care Medicine Department, focused on the interoperability of care, advocating for a unified electronic record system.
  • Beatrix Hartmann, RN, an MSN candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, emphasized the need for federal regulation requiring patients to be informed when a medical error has occurred.
  • Laura DeMers, a coordinator at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, reinforced the idea that health care is a team sport, linking all of the clinical team's providers around patient care.
  • Mira Patel, MBA, a project manager analyst at Highmark Health, pushed for AHRQ to become the leading agency to enforce quality and spur improvements in healthcare safety.
  • Lastly, Alexandra Allen, a Masters student in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, revisited the idea of a public health insurance option to tackle the impact of social determinants of health on medical error.

The judges selected Alexandra Allen's pitch as the most compelling and well-delivered of the evening.

Over the ten-week program, the fellows received education ranging from social marketing and behavioral economics to public opinion polling and political campaigning. The fellows also engaged with successful politicians such as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy Jr., MS, and State Representative Dan Miller. These interactions provided key insight into influencing the public will, as well as the importance of fostering partnerships and coalitions to make lasting change.

The evening’s winner, Alexandra Allen pictured with Karen Feinstein.

In reflecting on medical practitioners' training, Dr. Tamara Means shared, "This Fellowship has given me the ability to jump the distance from simply having an activist passion to becoming an effective activist capable of affecting real change."

Fellow Jameson Matunas, a doctorate candidate in Occupational Therapy, noted, "Each session gave insight into the current state of affairs, with guest speakers bringing a unique perspective and set of tools to the problems at hand."

Armed with newfound knowledge and a network of activists, fellows have the skills and confidence to create a better health care system for all. 

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