Putting ideas into practice: Committee helps clinicians carry out vital research

March 8, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,
Julie Piazza, M.S., CCLS, speaking at an event pre-COVID-19.

Julie Piazza, M.S., CCLS, has spent her career thinking outside the box. So when she noticed the level of anxiety children and their parents were experiencing when facing a needle or other type of poke at Michigan Medicine, she worked to change the way things had been done for years.

What resulted was a comprehensive Pokes and Procedures Plan, which introduces techniques and distractions to make pediatric blood draws more comfortable for patients.

And while the plan was adopted many years ago, Piazza needed to know if phlebotomists across the organization had the proper training to successfully carry it out.

There was only one problem with that — Piazza, a child life specialist at the time, didn’t know how to conduct research in a clinical setting.

“Fortunately, my director knew about the Social Work Research Committee (SWRC), which helps clinicians at Michigan Medicine put research ideas into practice,” Piazza said. “He connected me with the group and the rest is history.”

Finding the necessary tools

While the SWRC mostly focuses on helping social workers, child life specialists and other front-line staff members can use it as a support system as well.

“When I reached out in 2015, the committee members helped teach me research skills, offered a number of mentors, and informed me about focus groups, surveys and all the other ways I could go and collect the information I needed,” Piazza said.

Much of that came through the committee’s collaboration with MICHR called the Practice-Oriented Research Training program, or PORT. While PORT is no longer available as a separate course, the SWRC is hoping to offer virtual trainings, seminars and resources in the future that will help interested individuals get involved in research.

On top of that the PORT program, the SWRC connected Piazza with an interdisciplinary team that could assist her with the research.

“We ended up having a group of phlebotomists, nurses, patients and family members that would give advice, observe processes and write survey questions,” Piazza said. “It was incredibly rewarding to work with so many people in other disciplines.”

What they found

The first thing Piazza and her team found out through her research was that phlebotomists indeed identified a number of gaps in their training.

“This was a barrier not only to them providing ideal care, but to improving the quality of their own work life,” Piazza said. “Nobody likes to see their patients struggle with anxiety, let alone feel like there’s nothing they can do to lessen that anxiety. So we wanted to help share evidence and strategies to reduce anxiety and stress on both sides of the draw.”

Once all the data was compiled, Piazza’s group created a toolbox, providing tips, tools and training so that phlebotomists can ease the stress for pediatric patients.

The research also identified a need for a dedicated, full-time child life specialist in the pediatric blood draw area — a position that was created and now supports the patient-family experience and adds resources for phlebotomy staff.

Beyond borders

The SWRC’s impact is felt far beyond the walls of Michigan Medicine.

“I had mentors teach me ways to get published, connect me with outside groups so I could speak at conferences and work on grant writing so that future projects would be feasible,” Piazza said.

For instance, Piazza was a co-primary investigator with Alexander Brescia, M.D., and an interdisciplinary research team that recently completed a randomized clinical trial studying the impact of adapting and applying non-pharmacologic interventions with individualized care for adult patients having cardiac surgery at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. It’s work Piazza said “wouldn’t have been possible without feedback and input from the committee.”

Through networking, Piazza has also been able to speak at nearly a dozen events, including some international meetings.  

“I had someone recently reach out from Qatar because she wanted to learn some of the ways we were alleviating stress related to pokes and knew that I had that expertise,” Piazza said. “That wouldn’t have happened had I not been able to get my research and findings out there to the general health care community. It’s been really amazing to see that my little project can have an impact across the globe.”

Get connected

Every two years, the SWRC hosts a symposium at Michigan Medicine to bring together members of the research community so that they can share best practices and potential opportunities. The symposium will be held this year on Sept. 23 with the theme “A Research Odyssey: Integration of Social Justice and Shaping Inclusion in Research.” A call for abstracts will be coming soon.

The committee also hosts two research seminars each year on various research topics. Piazza — who is now a part of the committee and helps mentor others across the organization — is scheduled to speak at this year’s research seminar event, which will take place virtually later this week on Wednesday, March 10 at 1 p.m.

“I’m excited to share my research journey with others at Michigan Medicine and hopefully we can spark more projects that will change the way we do things down the road,” Piazza said. “Whether an idea is big or small, we have a platform in place that helps us discover and learn together.”

If you are interested in attending Wednesday’s event or you want to learn more about the Social Work Research Committee, contact Heather Dakki, LMSW, MPH, committee co-chair, at hdakki@med.umich.edu.