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UTSW's first Innovation Tank for faculty rewards promising ideas

Eight people smiling, wearing medals
Internal Medicine faculty award winners (from left) Drs. Rebecca Vigen, Sarah Wingfield, Jessica Voit, Caitlin Holt Siropaides, Jaclyn Albin, Swee-Ling Levea, Laila Castellino, and Kamalanathan Sambandam, pose for a group photo.

In the TV show “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of investors, hoping to win financing and a mentor for their business project. At the recent Innovation Tank hosted by the Department of Internal Medicine, enterprising UT Southwestern physicians competed for $10,000 – and institutional support and sponsorship as they develop their ideas for improving patient care.

Six faculty teams, culled from an original 23, made their final 10-minute presentations during a recent Internal Medicine Grand Rounds. Proposals ranged from a smartphone app to track outpatients’ water retention to a communications course for physicians to improve discussions with seriously ill patients.

“Originally, the plan was to conduct the competition more like ‘Shark Tank,’ with five winning teams selected at the end,” said Dr. Susan Matulevicius, Assistant Dean for Faculty Wellness and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. “But, after holding the semifinal competition, leadership was so excited about all the ideas and passion of the faculty that they wanted everyone to get a prize.”

That meant $10,000 awards for each of the five finalist teams, as well as a $10,000 People’s Choice Award voted on by faculty and staff, and $5,000 for each of the seven semifinalists – a total of 13 prizes, said Dr. Matulevicius. Dr. David Johnson, former Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, as well as departmental Vice Chairs within Internal Medicine, provided prize money from their Chair funds and endowments.

Winning teams will now develop and implement their ideas using their Innovation Tank funds.

Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean of the Medical School, was on hand for the final presentations. “I am inspired by the level of innovations being showcased,” he told team members. “Innovations such as these are needed to help move forward the practice of medicine.”

“This is really in the best tradition of clinical research,” added Dr. Jonathan Weissler, Internal Medicine Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs and Professor of Internal Medicine.

“Just the whole idea of the Innovation Tank was really exciting,” Dr. Jessica Voit, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, said of the inaugural event, which took place in December. Dr. Voit was part of a team that won for a proposed computer tool to help medical staff ensure they are taking the best care of geriatric patients as they release them from hospital to home. “It pushed us to move forward on ideas that we had thought about,” she said after the event.

 And the winners for best ideas are …

    • People’s Choice Award: Offer a culinary medicine program for patients who have donated a kidney for transplant in order to reduce risks related to poor diet, high blood pressure, or weight gain – Dr. Jaclyn Albin, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, and Dr. Swee-Ling Levea, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.
Two women standing at podium speaking
Drs. Jaclyn Albin and Swee-Ling Levea won the People’s Choice Award for their idea of a culinary medicine program for kidney donors.
    • Build in a prominent computer notice to let a physician ordering an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) know how many other such tests the patient has had in the prior 12 months as a way to reduce unnecessary duplication – Dr. Rebecca Vigen, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.
    • Develop a communications tool to coordinate and track the care of patients with endocarditis among specialties – Dr. James Cutrell, Director of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Francesca Lee, Associate Professor of Pathology and Internal Medicine, as well as Internal Medicine Assistant Professors Drs. Laila Castellino and Richard Medford.
    • Create a smartphone app that can track water retention in outpatients and then suggest adjustments in their diuretic medications – Dr. Kamalanathan Sambandam, Director of the Nephrology Fellowship Program and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.
Man in white lab coat speaking at podium
Dr. Kamalanathan Sambandam presents his idea for a smartphone app that can track water retention in outpatients and then suggest adjustments in their diuretic medications.
  • Offer a communications course for physicians who need to have difficult conversations with seriously ill patients – Dr. Caitlin Siropaides, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.
  • Build a computer tool to guide health care workers through the necessary steps as they transition geriatric patients from hospital to home – Drs. Jessica Voit and Sarah Wingfield, Assistant Professors of Internal Medicine.
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