Communication Professors Collaborate on Healthcare Research with MHA Keystone Center

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) Keystone Center has been awarded a grant by the Center for Innovation and Research, a partnership of Sparrow Health System and Michigan State University (MSU), to research hospital culture and front-line healthcare professionals speaking out about potential mistakes.

The research team is being led by Kenneth J. Levine, a professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, along with co-principal investigator Kami Silk, also a professor in the Department of Communication.

"The grant is focused on conducting formative research through focus groups and survey methods to develop an understanding of the existing culture of speaking-up related to medical errors and near-misses," said Sam R. Watson, MHA’s senior vice president of patient safety and quality and executive director of the MHA Keystone Center.

"Understanding factors that affect whether front-line healthcare professionals report medical errors and near-misses at Sparrow is critical to ensuring the best possible care for patients. This project will provide important knowledge which can improve healthcare staff performance and patient outcomes," said Shelia Cotten, PhD, director, Sparrow/MSU Center for Innovation and Research.

The research team will run a series of focus groups with practicing clinicians to better comprehend barriers to submitting adverse healthcare-related events, with a goal of understanding the existing organizational culture at Sparrow Health System. The findings will be analyzed for common themes, trends or concerns. Findings will then be aggregated and shared with hospital administrators. If there are actionable areas of opportunity, the research team will consider a second phase for developing interventions for improvement.

Other research team members include Christine Jodoin, MSN, RN, NE-BC, vice president of nursing at Sparrow Hospital; Ted Glynn, MD, FACEP, vice president of medical education and research at Sparrow Health System; Anna Melville, director of population health at Sparrow Health System; and Adam Novak, manager of patient safety & quality at the MHA Keystone Center.

The grant and its research builds upon the work of the MHA Keystone Center and its efforts to improve hospital culture among members at the unit and organizational level. Leveraging data and trends from the MHA Keystone Center Speak-up Award! and adverse event reports, this research aims to influence best practices and provide further insight into the culture of preventing patient and staff harm.

"Cultural improvement is a foundational concept that crosses all of our patient safety and quality improvement efforts," said Watson. "Our targeted focus on improving culture and initiating person and family engagement activities are helping move members toward becoming highly reliable organizations."

Michigan is the second state in the U.S. to embark on a statewide high reliability initiative with the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, and this research will guide the MHA Keystone Center and its work in helping members move toward a state of high reliability. Highly reliable organizations are those that manage safety hazards extremely well under trying conditions and do so consistently over extended periods of time. High reliability in healthcare signifies excellent care is consistently delivered, with a commitment to zero preventable harm.

Learn more about the MHA Keystone Center and their patient safety and quality improvement work at