Carla Pugh appointed Joint Commission’s first presidential fellow

The Joint Commission, which accredits more than 22,000 health care organizations, awarded surgeon Carla Pugh the inaugural fellowship, during which she plans to develop a technology-driven process to support the organization’s work.

- By John Sanford

Carla Pugh, speaking at Frontiers of Medicine in 2022, has been named the inaugural presidential fellow of the Joint Commission.
Stanford Medical Center Development

Carla Pugh, MD, PhD, professor of surgery at Stanford Medicine, has been named the Joint Commission’s inaugural President’s Fellow for Healthcare Quality and Safety.

“I’m super-excited,” said Pugh, who is also the Thomas Krummel Professor and director of the Technology Enabled Clinical Improvement Center. “It’s a huge honor and a huge opportunity.”

Since early in her career, she added, she has wanted “to work with an organization that could be a driver for what we value in health care.”

Founded in 1951, the Joint Commission is a nonprofit enterprise that accredits more than 22,000 health care organizations nationwide and helps them improve the quality and safety of their services.

“Dr. Pugh is an inspired choice for this inaugural position,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at Stanford University. “Her talents and expertise as a surgeon, educator, and inventor will be invaluable in helping the commission further its goals of continuously improving patient care and creating a culture of collaboration across health systems."

Pugh plans to devote her yearlong fellowship to developing a technology-driven process that supports the Joint Commission’s work and that benefits health systems as they gauge their performance on measures of clinical care and safety.

“Carla Pugh is an extraordinary surgeon, researcher and inventor with an unwavering commitment to advancing patient care quality and safety across health systems,” said David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care. “Her innovative approach to assessing and improving surgical technique has enhanced training practices and health care delivery around the country — to the benefit of patients and families far and wide. She will be a great asset to the Joint Commission in this prestigious role, and I’m excited to see her contributions.”

Pugh noted that the commission recently appointed an executive vice president for innovation. “They’re serious about putting the infrastructure in place to develop what they’re calling ‘the accreditation of the future,’” she said.

She credited Jonathan Perlin, MD, PhD, president and CEO of the Joint Commission, for welcoming outside researchers to partner with the organization on ways to advance its mission.

“Establishing the President’s Fellowship for Healthcare Quality and Safety is an exciting way to introduce fresh perspectives to The Joint Commission’s efforts to support healthcare organizations’ delivery of safe, high-quality, equitable and compassionate care,” Perlin said in a news release. “We are delighted Dr. Pugh has joined us as our inaugural fellow and look forward to working with her to advance quantitative methods of performance assessment and improvement.”

Improving surgical skills

Pugh’s research at Stanford Medicine focuses on collecting and analyzing clinical data to improve the skills of health care providers. In collaboration with the American College of Surgeons, Pugh also directs the Surgical Metrics Project, in which surgeons wear sensors that detect their movements and brain waves while performing real or simulated operations that are videorecorded. The goal of the research is to determine how a surgeon’s form and decision-making during operations correlate with the quality of the procedural outcome.

Pugh holds three patents on the use of sensor- and data-acquisition technology to measure and characterize hands-on clinical skills. More than 200 medical and nursing schools are using one of her sensor-enabled training tools for their students and trainees. 

Pugh said she will collaborate with staff in various divisions of the Joint Commission on her project. She said she is looking forward to the challenge of applying what she’s learned about data collection and analysis at the individual level to an organizational level.

“All the while that I’ve been working with data for individual performers, I have learned a tremendous amount about how the data is applicable to teams, systems and organizations,” she said. “My project will definitely center on helping the Joint Commission build products that create value around pre-existing data streams and workflows in health systems.”

Health systems have what she called “huge data lakes” on patient outcomes, team workflows and broader information related to care. “But probably 80% of that data is not used for understanding quality when in fact it could be,” she said. “What’s needed is software applications and products that enable interoperability and ways of connecting and drawing meaning and value in that data.”

Pugh earned a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1988 and a medical degree at Howard University in 1992. She earned a PhD in education at Stanford in 2001. In 2011, she received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Barack Obama.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

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