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Pronovost Wins "Genius Grant"



As the school of medicine’s most recent MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Peter Pronovost is best known for creating a checklist that has helped to drive down catheter-related bloodstream infections across Michigan. By reminding caregivers to follow simple steps, such as hand-washing and proper skin preparation before catheter insertion, the sheet of paper helped that state’s intensive care units to save an estimated 1,500 lives and $175 million over 18 months.

But to Sam Watson, executive director of the patient safety arm of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association—
which nominated Pronovost for the $500,000 “genius” grant—the reasons for Pronovost’s success go well beyond the checklist. Not only does Pronovost bring a new level of scientific rigor to
patient safety research, by insisting on proper study design and constant measurement of results, but he has a unique ability to inspire culture change in
health care, Watson says.

“Peter is masterful at bridging the mind and the heart, and that is incredibly important in the work of change,” says Watson, whose organization worked closely with Pronovost’s team on the state’s ICU project. “I’ve see many, many other bright people bring the facts and the figures to the table but never stir others’ emotions about the need to improve how we deliver care. Peter is clearly genius at that level.”

Pronovost is uneasy with that label, but he’s grateful for the opportunity provided by the grant to expand on his work or take it in bold new directions. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation puts no stipulations on how the money will be used.

Pronovost says he’s not sure what he’ll do with the grant money, but he has plenty of ideas. One is to create a “checklist-maker” that can be applied to any medical procedure or diagnosis—or maybe even to non-medical areas such as finance.

Where he’ll find the time isn’t clear.

A partnership with the World Health Organization’s patient safety program has Pronovost expanding the bloodstream infection-prevention program across Spain, and soon to the United Kingdom. He’s also working closely with the WHO to make sure that its patient safety efforts include
the same scientific rigor that he brings to his own work.

“He challenges us and the world to ask if we’re really saving lives by coming up with solutions, developing new practices and trying to implement them,” says Pauline Philip, director of the patient safety program at the WHO. “He always wants to know if we’re making a difference.”    

— Jamie Manfuso



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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