One of the busiest times of HM13—and, come to think of it, every recent annual meeting—is the poster session for the Research, Innovations, and Clinical Vignettes (RIV) competition. This year, more than 800 abstracts were submitted and reviewed, with nearly 600 being accepted for presentation at HM13. That meant thousands of hospitalists thumbtacking posters to rows and rows of portable bulletin boards in the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center’s massive exhibit hall.
With all those posters and accompanying oral presentations, it’s impossible for RIV judges to chat with everybody, so they choose finalists based on the abstracts, then listen to quick-hit summaries before choosing a winner on site. And meeting attendees are just as strapped for time, so they do the best they can to see as many posters as they can, taking time to network with old connections and make new ones.
So with all the limitations on how many people will interact with your poster, the small chance of winning Best in Show, and the hundreds of work hours that go into a poster presentation, why do it?
“To share is what I think is really important,” says Todd Hecht, MD, FACP, SFHM, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “If you don’t let other people know what you’re doing, they can’t bring it to their institutions, nor can you learn from others and bring their innovations to your own hospital.”
Dr. Hecht, director of the Anticoagulation Management Center and Anticoagulation Management Program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, takes the poster sessions very seriously. This year, he entered a poster in both the Innovations and Vignette categories. His Innovations poster, “Impact of a Multidisciplinary Safety Checklist on the Rate of Preventable Hospital Complications and Standardization of Care,” was a finalist.
That meant that, at the very least, he’d be able to explain to at least two judges what motivated his research team’s project. And what was the inspiration? A 90-year-old male patient with metastatic melanoma who, in the fall of 2011, refused to take medication for VTE prophylaxis, as lesions on his skin made the process rather painful. After refusing the doses for a bit, though, the high-risk patient unsurprisingly developed a pulmonary embolism (PE).
The man survived the PE, but Dr. Hecht and his colleagues began to wonder how many patients refuse VTE prophylaxis. So they investigated, and it turned out that from December 2010 to February 2011, 26.4% of the prescribed doses of prophylaxis on the medicine floors they studied were missed. Moreover, nearly 80% of all missed doses on the medicine floors were due to patient refusal.
“It was astonishing to me that it was that high,” Dr. Hecht says. “If there were 1,000 doses in a month, 260 of them were not being given—and 205 of them were not given because they were refused.”
So Dr. Hecht and colleagues set out to create a checklist that could be used daily on multidisciplinary rounds to help reduce the risk of VTE. First question on the list: Has prophylaxis been ordered, and if so, is the patient refusing it? Knowing that patients are “refusing” medication can lead to discussions about why that is happening, which in turn can lead to ways to convince the patient that the preventative measure is a good idea.
Dr. Hecht says the team also realized a checklist creates the opportunity to improve other quality metrics, such as hospital-associated infections (HAIs). Two questions on the checklist ask whether indwelling urinary catheters (IUCs) and central venous catheters (CVCs) can be removed. Two questions ask if telemetry can be stopped and whether there are any pain-management concerns. A final query asks whether there are any nursing, social work, or discharge-related questions—a step that, according to Dr. Hecht, loops the entire multidisciplinary team into the care-plan discussion.
“An ongoing challenge is making sure it’s not just questions being asked and being answered by rote,” Dr. Hecht says. “Just pause and think for just a second for each question. You can get through the checklist in 10 seconds, but you can’t go through the checklist in two seconds.”
The project’s results are what made it a finalist. After the checklist intervention, the number of missed doses of VTE prophylaxis plummeted 59% to just 10.9% (P<0.001) from September to November 2012; the number of “patient refused” doses dropped to 6.3% (P<0.001).
Not only was Dr. Hecht caught off guard by his findings, but so were the judges who visited his poster—Mangla Gulati, MD, FHM, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Rachel George, MD, MBA, FHM, of Cogent HMG.
“I wonder if it’s like that in every hospital,” Dr. George says. “I’d like to know.”
The positive reaction and feedback to Dr. Hecht’s poster, however, was not enough to win the Innovations category. That honor went to “SEPTRIS: Improving Sepsis Recognition and Management Through a Mobile Educational Game,” which was developed by a team of researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The video game
(http://med.stanford.edu/septris/)—a mashup of sepsis and the once-popular Tetris puzzle game—already has been played 17,000 times and is on its way to being shared in other languages.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t matter,” Dr. Hecht says. “The goal is to share your information with other people and learn from them.”
Peter Watson, MD, FACP, FHM, sees it the same way. That’s why this year he was both judge and judged. The division head of hospital medicine for Henry Ford Medical Group in Detroit was part of a group presenting “Feasibility and Efficacy of a Specialized Pilot Training Program to Enhance Inpatient Communication Skills of Hospitalists.” He was a judge for the Research portion of the contest. He says he’s hard-pressed to say which process he enjoyed more, but one trick of the poster trade he passes along is that “judging actually makes you a better presenter on the back end,” especially when it comes to describing in less than five minutes a poster whose work may date back 12 to 18 months.
“In your brain,” he says, “you have a Tolstoy novel of information, but you have to break that down into a paragraph of CliffsNotes, and actually convince the people that are judging you that you have a really cool project that either is going to have a big impact in the field or may lead to other big studies or is going to impress somebody so much that they’re going to go back to their institution and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do that.’”
Dr. Watson also urges people not to be discouraged by not winning the poster contest. First, all of the accepted abstracts get published online (www.shmabstracts.com) by the Journal of Hospital Medicine, a high point for medical students, residents, and early-career physicians looking to make a mark. Second, presenting information of value to one’s peers is the definition of a specialty that prides itself on collaboration.
“To see a second-year medical student presenting all the way up to a very senior division chief and everything in between is a really good example for our profession,” he says. “That’s really the magic of this meeting.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.