New $3 million grant will fuel quality improvement research

SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 13, 2009) — A national leader in the analysis of health care quality from the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute for Nursing Research.

The new grant was awarded through the Grand Opportunities program of the National Institutes of Health and resulted from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Kathleen R. Stevens, Ed.D., RN, FAAN, will lead the two-year grant, which will create the first national research network that focuses on front-line hospital care provided by nurses. This network of clinical and academic nurse researchers will collaborate in studies across multiple hospitals to quickly determine what works in improving bedside care. It will be positioned to move answers rapidly into practice.

“Research network members will be supported through a coordinating center at the UT Health Science Center and an online interactive database that will enable us to get reliable research answers,” said Dr. Stevens, a professor of acute nursing care. Once this Web resource is built and tested in collaboration with Westat, Inc., a Rockville, Md., research support organization, it will be transitioned to the UT Health Science Center’s Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science, which administers a $26 million Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA).

“Improving the quality of health care and patient safety has been a major goal of the federal government, accrediting bodies, regulatory agencies and patient-advocacy groups for at least 10 years, but progress has been slow in actually moving research into improvements that benefit patients,” Dr. Stevens said. “Nurses are in a strong position to transform the care given in hospitals. Pockets of excellence give us hope that improvements in issues such as hospital-acquired infections and preventable patient falls can be achieved,” she continued.

“Best practices are established by taking good ideas and testing them, using the scientific method,” Dr. Stevens said. “We have done a good job collecting some great ideas that work in one hospital or clinic here or there, but they can’t be considered ‘best practices’ until they have been evaluated scientifically to make sure they really work under most circumstances. This is what is called ‘improvement science.’” One example of an innovation that works is the orange medication vest that nurses may wear while preparing medications in a busy hospital unit. The vest acts as a “do not disturb sign” to co-workers. Testing has indicated that nurses had fewer interruptions and avoided medication errors while wearing the vest.

The day before receiving the new grant, Dr. Steven’s team completed its role in developing the federal government’s Agency for Health Care Research and Quality project, the AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange. The Web resource is a database of case studies submitted by health care practitioners across the country of innovative ideas that work at their institution.

Dr. Stevens is one of six individuals on the AHRQ Health Care Innovation Exchange editorial board that guides the development of the exchange. The Health Science Center’s Academic Center for Evidence-Based Practice, directed by Dr. Stevens, also worked as a writing team and published 68 innovations on the exchange, which contains a growing collection of more than 370 case studies.

“That was a wonderful project, and while working on it I saw the potential for rapidly building scientific proof through a research network. This would enable us to efficiently test improvements for priority problems, such as preventing wrong-site surgery, assuring that the oncoming nursing staff receives full information about patients, and preventing bedsores from forming. That was the premise of our new project, ‘A Practice-Based Research Network for Improvement Science,’” she explained.

For the new project, Dr. Stevens is recruiting network members from leading hospitals and academic institutions, as well as Westat Inc., a research support organization which coordinated the AHRQ’s Health Care Innovations Exchange. “Our network of clinical experts and scientists will help select improvements they think have the best potential for success, then we will evaluate them through studies at multiple institutions,” Dr. Stevens said. “Those that ‘make the cut’ scientifically can be moved immediately to the bedside, ultimately giving patients the best care for the best health outcomes. This is truly achieving the goal of ‘translating research into practice.’”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 26,400 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

Share This Article!