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Images from the 2024 Department of Medicine Shark Tank Competition.

Project to Integrate Spanish Interpreter Wins Shark Tank Competition

The Department of Medicine's annual competition helps support quality improvement projects that promote high-value care.

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Written by Tayler Shaw on May 30, 2024

Amid intense competition and tough questions from a panel of “sharks,” a team of medical residents at the University of Colorado Department of Medicine emerged victorious on Wednesday during this year’s 8th Annual Department of Medicine Shark Tank Competition.  

The competition, which began in 2016, aims to identify evidence-based, clinical projects led by department faculty and trainees that improve patient outcomes and potentially reduce the costs of health care.  

This year’s winning project intends to improve quality of care by integrating a Spanish-language interpreter into the CU Internal Medicine Residency Program’s teaching rounds at Denver Health, with goals of eliminating common miscommunication associated with virtual interpreters and making teaching rounds more efficient and educational for both trainees and patients alike. This project was proposed by a team of residents in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, including CJ Mowry, MD; Emily Anderson, MD; Anthony Nguyen, MD; Daniel Galvan, MD; and Sarah Lentz, MD.  

IMG_2728Winners of the 2024 Department of Medicine Shark Tank Competition smile alongside the panel of judges who selected them on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. 

The need for in-person interpreters 

“At Denver Health, roughly 25-30% of patients admitted to internal medicine are Spanish speaking, so the opportunity for improvement is huge,” Mowry said. “Instead of having a virtual interpreter on the phone as we’re in the room with the patient, we’ll replace that with an in-person interpreter who is a part of the team with the specific patients we are going to see.” 

By having an in-person interpreter, Mowry said the project seeks to improve patients’ understanding of their medical conditions, improve provider and interpreter satisfaction, and demonstrate cost neutrality given the high cost of virtual interpreter services.  

“Together, we can reduce inequities, improve the quality and safety of care provided to our patients with low-English proficiency, and improve the patient and provider experience in our hospitals,” Mowry said.  

Mowry and his team were among four projects that competed as finalists in this year’s competition. Each year, the Department of Medicine’s Quality and Patient Safety Program selects finalists to pitch their projects to a panel of “sharks,” who are quality leaders from the University of Colorado Hospital and affiliated hospitals. The 2024 panel featured Kristi Kuhn, MD, PhD; Read Pierce, MD; Sunita Sharma, MD; Cari Levy, MD, PhD; and Jeffrey Glasheen, MD.  

IMG_2724The panel of judges for the 2024 Department of Medicine Shark Tank Competition wore shark fins on their heads.

In all his years of serving as a judge for this competition, Glasheen said this year was the hardest due to how exceptional all the projects were. Ultimately, the winning project stood out because it addresses a major issue, involves a multidisciplinary team, reduces potential harm, provides more equitable care, and hopefully will be able to help reduce the costs of care.  

“Additionally, we felt that it was important to recognize that this is a resident-led team and also from Denver Health, which is an incredibly important part of the Department of Medicine,” Glasheen said.  

The winning project receives support from the Quality and Patient Safety Program for one year, including coaching, analytics development, data prioritization, and possession of the coveted Shark Tank trophy.  

“What we're trying to incentivize with this competition is to encourage systems in place that promote higher value care for both our patients and providers,” said Tyler Anstett, DO, associate vice chair for quality in the Department of Medicine.  

IMG_2718CJ Mowry, MD; Anthony Nguyen, MD; and Sarah Lentz, MD, smile with the Shark Tank trophy after winning the 2024 competition on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

2023 winners reflect on progress, value of competition  

As part of this year’s competition, two Shark Tank winners from 2023 — Katherine Runkel, MD, and Sarah Tietz, MD — offered an update on the progress of their project, which aims to improve patient outcomes for older adults in an academic hospital by embedding an attending-lead geriatrics consultation service in an emergency department.  

The primary impact of this project is reducing hospital admissions and emergency department visits. Since consultations began in November 2023, about 6% of all patients with a consult had a change of disposition from an expected hospital admission to instead being discharged home.  

As the project continues to progress, Runkel and Tietz expressed appreciation for the Department of Medicine’s support.  

“Giving us the honor of winning Shark Tank has been really amazing to help implement this program in the hospital system,” Runkel said. “We appreciate everybody’s involvement in this program and I’m excited to see where it goes next.” 

Image of Sarah Tietz, MD, left, and Katherine Runkel, MD.Sarah Tietz, MD, left, and Katherine Runkel, MD, presenting at the 2024 Department of Medicine Shark Tank Competition on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.