Pursuing Excellence in Health Care

Dr. Richard Shannon spoke about the importance of quality in health care, the Be Safe program at the University of Virginia and its impact on patients and health care professionals as well as his thoughts on how health care quality can be improved. Dr. Shannon spoke at the Wednesday January 13, 2016 meeting. The program was moderated by SSV Vice President Rich DeMong.


2016-01-13-2-shannonRichard P. Shannon, MD is the executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia. He is responsible for aligning the key components of the UVa Health System to achieve the goal of becoming a top-decile academic medical center.

Prior to joining the UVa Health System, Dr. Shannon served as the Frank Wister Thomas Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the Univ. of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Prior to his appointment at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Dr. Shannon served as chair of the Department of Medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Shannon received his BA from Princeton, and MD from the Univ. of Connecticut School of Medicine. He did his training in internal medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, his cardiovascular training at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was a professor of Medicine at Harvard and Drexel. Both Harvard and Drexel have honored him with numerous teaching awards. Dr. Shannon’s investigative interests are in the area of myocardial metabolism and heart failure, specifically the role of energetics in the progression of heart failure. Dr. Shannon’s lab was the first to discover the beneficial CV actions of incretins which formed the basis for Ventrigen, LLC, a company designed to develop incretins for the use in treating heart failure.

Dr. Shannon’s pioneering work in patient safety is chronicled in the chapter – “First, Do No Harm,” Charles Kenney’s book, The Best Practice: How the New Quality Movement is Transforming Medicine. Dr. Shannon’s innovative work also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, on CNN and CNBC news segments and ABC’s “20/20,” and the PBS report entitled “Remaking American Medicine.”

Dr. Shannon is an elected member of several honorary organizations, editorial boards, and boards of directors including the following: American Board of Internal Medicine, Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and UVa’s Physicians Group.

Program Summary

Dr. Shannon stated that the University of Virginia Medical Center will make some patient outcome statistics public as part of an effort to improve transparency. He said the hospital is part of many professional organizations nationwide that track patient outcomes. The American College of of Cardiology, for instance, tracks heart attack patient mortality rates in hospitals — the nationwide average last year was 4.6 percent, while UVa’s mortality rate was 3.4 percent.

The Medical Center is working to gather many of these statistics, covering a wide variety of conditions, so people can compare UVa’s outcomes with the reported national averages, Shannon said. The hospital will begin rolling out the data this spring. “I want you to be able to know what your five-year survival rate is if you have small cell lung cancer,” Shannon said.

The data will allow people to compare UVa Medical Center only with national averages. Head-to-head comparisons won’t be available — unless other institutions are doing the same thing. Shannon said the data would include not only mortality rates, but rates of complications and infection. He promised to share unflattering statistics with the public in the hope of improvement. “If we’re not looking at the data, we can’t [get better],” he said.

Decreasing hospital-acquired infections has been a major focus for Shannon, who arrived at UVa from the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2013. Shannon told the audience at Wednesday’s event that he believes reducing such infections can be the main driver behind cutting health care costs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated a reduction in hospital-acquired infections saved 50,000 lives and $12 billion nationwide between 2010 and 2013. The department credits new Medicare payment incentives, instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act, and HHS initiatives with driving the changes.

UVa has been instituting changes to reduce its own infection rates. According to Shannon, the number of catheter-related urinary tract infections (one of the most common problems in hospitals) dropped from 166 in the 2013 fiscal year to 21 in the last fiscal year. This year, the hospital is on pace for just five such infections, he said.

Virginia Roy, a board member with the Senior Statesmen, said she was impressed by Shannon’s presentation. She said she thinks the national mandate was the real driving force behind UVa’s safety improvements. “The regulations Medicare has put in place — I think that was the impetus for this,” Roy said.

Shannon — who often tells UVa’s Board of Visitors he wants to make the Medical Center “the safest hospital in America” — said he believes making outcome data available to the public will help boost the hospital’s national reputation. “Excellence is defined by clinical outcomes,” Shannon said, downplaying the role of flashy public relations campaigns. “That billboard stuff, that front-page stuff — I’m not sure that’s real quality,” he said.

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