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Innovation Pilot Awards

Since 2013, the Center has awarded 41 teams over $1,889,000 total to support innovative pilots aimed at disrupting the delivery and financing of health care while improving health outcomes and lowering costs. Previous award winners have been able to leverage findings gathered during their pilot project to obtain over $5.9M of additional funding! Click the project titles below to learn more about each project. 


PI: Katherine Chan, MD, MPH (Department of Urology)
Physicians with burnout exhibit emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced feelings of personal accomplishment. They are twice as likely to exhibit low professionalism, receive low patient satisfaction ratings, and become involved in patient-safety incidents. This project will pilot a group coaching intervention for UNC Health faculty with internal healthcare leaders who have completed coach training and train additional coaches in group coaching techniques.

PI: Krisi Brackett, PhD, CCC-SLP, C/NDT (Rehab Services- UNC Feeding Team)
Co-PI: Carmen Caruthers, PhD, BCBA (Psychiatry-TEACCH)

Autistic children are at elevated risk for Pediatric Feeding Disorders (PFDs) and often require a team approach utilizing specialized intervention. This specialized care is difficult for families to access and requires an extraordinary commitment of time, travel, expense, and therapy. This project will pilot a feeding clinic and therapy services specializing in PFDs and autism via a novel collaboration between the UNC Feeding Team and a TEACCH© psychologist specialized in autism and behavioral feeding strategies.

PI: Thomas Holowka, MD, PhD (Division of Infectious Diseases)
Co-PI: Luther A. Bartelt, MD (Division of Infectious Diseases)

Clostridioides difficile is a leading cause of healthcare-associated infections nationally. Many affected patients develop recurrent C. difficile infection (rCDI), which drives hospitalizations and costs. Novel therapies effectively interrupt recurrent infection, but timely access is limited by inefficiencies in existing care models. This project will implement new workflows to proactively track rCDI and expedite patient access to novel therapies in a dedicated ambulatory setting in order to decrease the overall system burden of this debilitating disease.

PI: Tessa M. Andermann, MD, MPH (Division of Infectious Diseases)
Co-PI: David van Duin, MD, PhD (Division of Infectious Diseases)
Collaborators: Kevin Alby, PhD (McLendon Labs) Sarah Rutstein, MD, PhD (Division of Infectious Diseases)

Bacterial antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health crisis, responsible for more than 2.8 million infections in the US and 1.3 million deaths globally each year. Multidrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (MDR Kp) is a top pathogen in NC. Locally, AMR rates are high and are further increased in vulnerable patients. The project aims to significantly improve the sensitivity and accuracy of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) detection using Nanopore long-read technology, to enhance patient treatment and outcomes.

PI: Sean Zeller, MBA, MSPO, CPO (Orthopedics / Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)
Co-PI: Gregory Buckner, MSME, PhD (Biomedical Engineering UNC/ NCSU)

Gravity halo traction is a treatment used to improve the outcomes of children with severe scoliosis, however it involves months in the hospital at significant cost. Current treatment approaches lack standardization and are inherently imprecise and prone to failure. INSIGHT will improve the safety and reliability of these systems while producing a system intended for use at home resulting in better care, lower costs, and children at home with their family and friends.


PI: Alexandria Kraus, MD, (Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Co-PI: Elizabeth Stringer, MD, MSc, (Obstetrics and Gynecology)

Obese women face an increased risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, a leading cause of maternal mortality. Thus, accurate blood pressure (BP) monitoring is essential for the clinical management of obese patients, particularly during labor and delivery. Current methods to monitor BP of pregnant patients during delivery may produce unreliable results or come with other drawbacks. This project will be the first to assess whether a wireless wearable device is a reliable method for monitoring blood pressure of obese patients during labor.

PI: Stephen Tilley, MD (Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine)
Co-PI: Stephen Schworer, MD, PhD (Medicine/Rheumatology, Allergy/Immunology)

Asthma currently affects about 8% of the NC population with some of the highest rates found in minority communities and socioeconomically and geographically deprived populations. Inhaled pharmacotherapies are essential to manage asthma, but inhaled medicine adherence and technique is suboptimal. Digital inhalers have been shown to improve adherence, decrease healthcare utilization, and potentially help teach proper inhaler technique. This pilot project aims to determine the feasibility of deploying digital inhalers into routine clinical care within an adult asthma clinic. The project will also assess the technology’s ability to guide proper inhaler technique and will determine its accuracy in measuring lung function by comparing inspiratory flow rates and volumes measured by the digital device compared to lung function measured by spirometry.


PI: Dr. Andrew Abumoussa, MD, MSc (Neurosurgery)
Co-PI: Dr. Sivakumar Jaikumar, MD (Neurosurgery)

External ventricular drain placement, a common life-saving procedure performed by neurosurgeons, involves the insertion of a catheter through the skull into the ventricular system to alleviate elevated intracranial pressure. These procedures are often performed in an emergent setting without the support of operative navigation (due to time, space and equipment constraints) which can frequently result in misplacement, increasing patient morbidity and mortality. UNC Health aims to create a native mobile application that leverages an iOS device’s built-in camera and LIDAR scanner with a 3-D printed tracking device to provide surgeons real-time navigation with continuous registration to assist in placing the catheter. This low-cost solution will improve the safety and reliability of the procedure reducing the potential for related complications.

PI: Dr. Lukasz Mazur, PhD (Radiation Oncology)

Over 4,000 preventable surgical errors occur each year in the US, each causing varying degrees of physical, emotional, and financial harm. These errors are frequently tied to systemic problems within a health system, including the absence of necessary policies/procedures, an obstructive cultural hierarchy, and communication breakdown between staff. UNC Health aims to help address these issues by developing a training program that promotes a culture of patient safety and high reliability. A team from Radiation Oncology will leverage cutting edge virtual reality technology to help staff of all levels better understand the contributing factors behind patient safety events and improve the reporting of events within the UNC Department of Surgery.

PI: Dr. Allison Lazard, PhD (Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center)

Cancer misinformation exerts a heavy burden on cancer patients, survivors, and care networks, potentially leading to psychological harm and poor clinical outcomes. Social media exacerbates this issue, where misinformation represents a 30-70% of all cancer information shared. UNC Health will develop a simulated social media platform with curated prompts that encourage community intervention on misinformation. This platform will then be tested with real caregivers and patients to understand the effectiveness of the prompts and how the participants perceive their role in controlling cancer misinformation on social media networks.

PI: Thomas Caranasos, MD (Surgery)

No effective medical therapy exists for aortic aneurysms, an increasingly prevalent condition and major cause of morbidity in the US. Current research primarily focuses on the development of new drugs and biologics to treat this condition, an expensive and time-intensive endeavor, yet little to no effort is placed in discovering new applications for approved compounds. UNC Health will study Bupropion, an FDA-approved antidepressant, as a means to prevent aneurysm progression. The results aim to support the use of Bupropion as a readily available, cost-effective medical treatment for aortic aneurysms and reduce the need for dangerous surgeries.


PI: Dr. Jessica Cassidy, PT, DPT, PhD (Physical Therapy), Co-PI: Dr. John M Baratta, MD, MBA (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation)

Stroke is one of the leading causes of long-term disability in the United States and establishing healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as physical activity and social interaction, have been shown to improve recovery and overall patient wellness. However, many gaps exist during the period between hospital discharge and the commencement of outpatient therapies, contributing to the development of complications and higher likelihood of readmission. UNC Health will test the use of an innovative education program that targets this gap, providing physical and social support via a care coordinator and virtual peer-to-peer sessions to post-stroke patients preparing for discharge.

PI: Dr. Yara Abdou, MD (Medical Oncology)    

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of female cancer mortality in the United States. While recent research and treatment advances have significantly lowered breast cancer mortality rates, the decline in mortality in Black women continues to lag behind as death rates are 41% higher in Black women than White women. Survivin, an inhibitor of apoptosis protein, has been identified as being strongly correlated with poor breast cancer prognosis and is expressed differently in Black versus White women. UNC Health aims to better understand the differences in survivin expression across racial groups to improve prediction of breast cancer recurrence and survival, potentially resulting in improved treatment strategies.


PI: Dr. Shahzad K Ali, MD (Psychiatry), Co-PI: Dr. Robert K McClure, MD (Psychiatry)

Adolescent depression due to untreated or undertreated Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a common and serious medical condition affecting many North Carolinian teens. Between 2008-2017, the youth suicide rate nearly doubled, becoming the second most frequent cost of death for 10-17 year-olds. UNC Health will test the use of intermittent Theta Burst Stimulation (iTBS), a low-burden yet highly effective treatment for adults recently approved by the FDA, to help youth struggling with MDD.

PI: Dr. Jane Little, MD (Medicine), Co-PI: Dr. William Scheidler, MD (Psychiatry)

With an emerging population of adults coping with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), there is an increased need for expert management of the disease and its related factors to improve health outcomes and quality of life. However, many adults with SCD live in areas without subspecialty expertise, an issue acutely affecting the ~6,000 North Carolinians dispersed throughout the Piedmont and coastal regions. UNC Health aims to standardize screening, improve adherence to guideline-based care, and build personalized care plans by developing and implementing an integrated care model for SCD.


PI: Erin Carey, MD (Obstetrics and Gynecology), Co-PI: Rahima Benhabbour (Biomedical Engineering)

Vestibulodynia (VBD) is a very common cause of sexual pain of reproductive aged women in the United States. One of the first-line treatments for VBD, topical lidocaine 5% ointment, cream or gel, is difficult to apply due to the content and lack of a directed delivery system. Innovative vestibule medication delivery systems are needed to permit longer, directed therapy. This project will be the first to apply a specialized thin film technology to the vulvar vestibule.

PI: Haiyan Fu, MD (Pediatrics), Co-PI: Joseph Muenzer, MD (Pediatrics)

The aims of this project are to obtain IND approval and develop assays to support Phase 1/2 clinical trials for a gene therapy treatment for Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) IIIA. MPS IIIA is a devastating genetic disease with profound neurological disorders leading to early death and no effective treatment exists. The added value of successful gene therapy approaches to this disease will be extremely meaningful for affected families. The assays developed by this project are essential for subject recruitment, safety and outcome assessment of MPS IIIA gene therapy clinical trials.

PI: Ria Dancel, MD (Internal Medicine and Pediatrics), Co-PI: Catherine Coe (Family Medicine)

This project proposes to develop and implement a standardized Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) elective for residents in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics. Success of this project will pave the way for further widespread, interdepartmental and interdisciplinary efforts throughout UNC Health Care and a more robust curriculum for the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

PI: Spencer Dorn, MD (Gastroenterology), Co-PI: Nate Sowa, MD, PhD (Psychiatry)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common, costly chronic disease that can cause significant suffering. Those with IBD are up to twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Likewise, IBD patients with coexisting mental illness experience more severe illness and incur higher health care costs. This project aims to implement the Collaborative Care Model (CoCM) within the UNC Multidisciplinary Center for IBD to better integrate medical and behavioral/psychological care for these patients. This is the first time that CoCM is being applied to the IBD population. If successful, it could serve as a model for and developing the capabilities necessary to spread CoCM to other specialty practices.

PI: Ashley Rietz, MD (Family Medicine), Co-PI: Vinay Reddy, MD, MPH (Family Medicine)

Hypertension is the most modifiable risk factor associated with deaths from cardiovascular disease. This project is designed to introduce a new, patient-centered model of care for hypertension management, including more accurate blood pressure readings at the point of care as well as leveraging new technologies for home-based monitoring.


PI: Evan Dellon (Medicine/Gastroenterology), Co-PI: Rahima Benhabbour (Biomedical Engineering), Co-PI: Anthony Blikslager (School of Veterinary Medicine/NCSU)

This team aims to be the first to apply drug-eluting technology to a string release system and the first to apply it to the esophagus. The incidence and prevalence of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) are rapidly rising and current treatments are rudimentary. Drug-eluting string technology is an innovative approach to delivering medication along the entire length of the esophagus for an extended period of time. The pilot award will be used to develop the technology and test its pharmacokinetics in a porcine model.

PI: Angelica Glover (Obstetrics & Gynecology), Co-PI: Alison Stuebe (Obstetrics & Gynecology), Co-PI: Kristin Tully (School of Public Health), Co-PI: Narges Farahi (Family Medicine)

The focus of this project is to empower postpartum women affected by hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) to perform at-home blood pressure (BP) monitoring with the aid of digital technology. For a postpartum woman with a diagnosis of a HPD, the risk of complications extends beyond discharge from maternity care. Clinical guidelines recommend early postpartum follow-up in the form of a BP evaluation by a health care provider at 7-10 days postpartum. However, due to numerous barriers faced by new mothers, attendance at follow-up visits is poor and reflects significant disparities. This pilot project aims to measure adherence to the postpartum BP assessment among women who are provided with an at-home BP monitoring device and the feasibility of the use of such a device among a diverse population.

PI: Donald Rosenstein (Psychiatry), Co-PI: Stephanie Wheeler (School of Public Health)

The goal of this project is to establish a novel, cost-effective, patient-centered financial navigation clinic in order to decrease the burden of financial difficulties among uninsured and underinsured cancer patients treated at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital.  The team will use historical clinical and financial data to identify patient populations with the greatest financial burden in order to recruit them for this pilot intervention.  The team will develop a financial distress screening strategy and design, implement, and evaluate a financial navigation clinic for patients in the targeted populations who screen positive for high levels of financial distress.  The team will also collaborate with the UNC School of Social Work to staff the clinic with social work masters students.

PI: Katharine McGingle (Surgery), Co-PI: Corey Kalbaugh (Surgery)

The overarching aim of this study is to stage peripheral arterial disease (PAD) similar to the tumor staging criteria used to communicate with oncology patients. The spectrum of patients presenting with PAD is broad and treatment options are numerous. The team hopes that PAD staging will help inform patients of their survival and limb salvage probabilities based on their presenting characteristics. The team will initially focus on patients with critical limb ischemia by determining which covariates are associated with outcome status and then developing and evaluating a predictive model using machine learning that classifies subjects by outcome status.


PI: Austin Rose(Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery), Co-PI: Henry Fuchs (Computer Science), Co-PI: Jan-Michael Frahm (Computer Science)
Leveraging the rapidly developing technology known as augmented reality, this team will develop an augmented reality system for use in both open and endoscopic surgery. Augmented reality is defined as a live direct or indirect view of a physical environment whose elements are augmented by the fusion of computer-generated and real-time images. This augmented reality environment for the operating room would allow for localization of a patient’s specific pathology and normal anatomic landmarks. The ability to super-impose the exact location and dimensions of an underlying tumor, for example, on a surgeon’s direct view of the patient promises to positively impact both efficiency and patient safety in the operating room.
PI: Spencer Dorn (Gastroenterology), Co-PI: Larry Klein (Cardiology)
This team will develop and implement Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) services at UNC to power a model that predicts the likelihood a patient will attend an appointment and a companion app that uses that model to optimize how patients are scheduled for gastrointestinal procedures (e.g., colonoscopies and upper endoscopies). UNC will gain infrastructure and experience with a single open-standards-based pipeline for data integration, standardization, and access to solve focused research and clinical problems. No-shows to gastroenterology procedure appointments are especially costly given the high demand for these appointments and significant fixed resources required to deliver these services. The app will combine patient-reported and clinical data to optimize how patients are scheduled and prepared for these procedures.
PI: Claire Farel (Infectious Diseases), Co-PI: David Weber (Associate CMO)
Building on the back of UNC Infectious Disease’s Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy (OPAT) Program, ID DOOR will positively disrupt the workflow surrounding hospital discharge for Infectious Disease patients at high risk of adverse outcomes, suboptimal completion of a therapeutic plan, and readmission. ID DOOR will expand access to clinical pharmacist outpatient services post-discharge to ensure medication safety, fidelity to discharge planning and to address any medication side effects. The pharmacist will work closely with UNC’s transition of care team as well as OPAT providers and the program is expected to improve safety, clinical efficiency, patient access, patient satisfaction, and clinical outcomes.


PI: Carlton Moore (General Internal Medicine), Co-PI: Brian Moynihan (Health Sciences Library)
The Carolina Digital Health Research Initiative (CaDHRI) will provide a catalyst for disruptive innovation in digital health research at UNC. The CaDHRI will support digital health researchers through consultations, digital device lending, and events. The program will create a comprehensive digital health device collection housed at the Health Sciences Library. This device collection will be available for researchers to test the devices and applications, as well as, incorporate the devices into their research. In addition to the device collection, the CaDHRI will also host a series of digital health workshops, seminars, and speakers.
PI: Samantha Meltzer-Brody (Psychiatry), Co-PI: Patrick Sullivan (Genetics/Psychiatry)
The team will build upon the success of the recently launched PPD ACT iPhone app which was developed to engage women in a genetics research study about postpartum depression (PPD). The study, which enrolled over 10,000 women in the first month, aims to help researchers understand why some women suffer from PPD and others do not – critical knowledge to help researchers find more effective treatments. Specifically, the team will enhance the functionality of the pre-existing app by adding innovative, clinically relevant enhancements including the ability to track and display self-reported symptoms and physiological data captured via wearable devices. The app will be able to deliver education about PPD, send participants feedback based on trends in daily assessments, and allow users to participate in a PPD online-community. The team will conduct pilot testing of the app in women with PPD at UNC, and data collected and displayed via the app will be used in the evaluation and delivery of personalized treatment for these patients.
PI: John VaValle (Cardiology), Co-PI: Cassandra Ramm (Cardiology)
UNC Cardiology will partner with a well-established primary care office to improve the detection and treatment of aortic valve disease in the community and the surrounding area. In order to accomplish this goal, PCP’s will be trained and empowered to use hand-held ultrasound units to perform bedside cardiac ultrasound screenings for aortic valve disease and will partner with UNC Cardiology in Chapel Hill to confirm the diagnosis, complete the evaluation, and establish a treatment plan.
PI: Lisa Carey (Medicine-Oncology), Co-PI: David Rubinow (Psychiatry), Co-I: Donald Rosenstein (Psychiatry)
The primary objective of this study is to demonstrate superiority of the computerized cognitive behavioral therapy program “Beating the Blues” in reducing psychological symptoms and improving patient satisfaction in women who have completed active treatment for non-metastatic breast cancer.


PI: Debbie Travers (Department of Emergency Medicine), Co-PI: Abhi Mehrotra (Department of Emergency Medicine)
The Emergency Department currently employs a 5-point Emergency Severity Index (ESI) scale to triage patients; however, the rating tool groups over half of the UNC patients into the “3 – urgent” category without further specificity. Using innovative advanced analytics, this project seeks to expand and enhance the existing scale by identifying the predictors of complexity of acuity among patients currently grouped in the ESI 3 category and develop novel operational strategies using the new classification.
PI: Anil Gehi (Department of Medicine, Cardiology), Co-PI: Kevin Biese (Department of Emergency Medicine)
Although it is common for AF patients who present at the ED to be hospitalized, management of AF symptoms rarely requires inpatient resources. This project aims to reduce unnecessary hospitalization by implementing and evaluating a new protocol-based care pathway for AF patients who present at the ED, directing those without complications to an AF Transitions Clinic staffed by clinical pharmacists and overseen by Cardiology and Electrophysiology. The Transitions Clinic will provide patient education, and multidisciplinary care coordination of AF and comorbidities. The clinic will also ensure communication with the patients’ primary care provider and schedule follow-up appointments.


PI: Scott Hultman (Surgery, Plastic), Co-PI: Bruce Cairns (Surgery, Burn)
To evaluate the efficacy of existing hypertrophic burn treatment options in a prospective, randomized, controlled, single-blinded trial, compared to medical therapy alone, and determine the feasibility of a SMART (Sequential, Multiple Assignment, Randomized Trial) design in burn patients.
PI: Craig Buchman (Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery), Co-PI: Douglas Fitzpatrick (Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery), Co-PI: Christopher Giardina (Biomedical Engineering)
To optimize speech outcomes with cochlear implants by measuring and monitoring cochlear function during implantation.
PI: Robert “Matt” Coward (Urology), Co-PI: Paul Dayton (Biomedical Engineering)
To build and validate a new low-cost prototype ultrasound system designed specifically for penile and scrotal imaging that will expand the existing advantages of ultrasound and is more easily deployed to, and used at, a wide range of clinics and hospitals.
PI: Samantha Meltzer-Brody (Psychiatry), Co-PI: Celeste Mayer (UNC Health Care Legal)
To develop and measure the impact of a peer support program to provide evidence-based, compassionate and timely peer support to UNC caregivers involved in adverse patient events.


PI: Arlene Chung (Pediatrics)
To develop a proto-type of a patient portal that is easily comprehended and organized in a way that is meaningful to patients.
PI: Lukasz Mazur (Radiation Oncology), Co-PI: Prithima Mosaly (Radiation Oncology), Co-PI: Bhishamjit Chera (Radiation Oncology), Co-PI: Lawrence Marks (Radiation Oncology)
To create an infrastructure to objectively assess workload and performance for providers performing routine clinical tasks that require human-computer interactions.
PI: Stacey Sheridan (General Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology)
To develop and test an EHR-based CHD prevention program to promote CHD risk calculation, appropriate prescribing and patient adherence to prescribed medications
PI: Dana Neutze (Family Medicine)
An innovative approach to training certified medical assistants in the team-based concepts behind patient centered medical homes.

Innovation Well-Being Pilot Awards (2019)

The Center collaborated with the UNC Integrated Well-Being Program to offer a new award that provides funding for pilots that promote the well-being of faculty and staff within the UNC Health system with the goal of meeting the fourth arm of the Quadruple Aim: preventing burnout and improving work-life balance.

PI: Carl J Seashore, MD (Pediatrics), Co-PI: Saif Khairat, PhD (CHIP, School of Nursing)

The use of electronic health records (EHR) directly contributes to physician burnout. Additionally, poor EHR design can affect decision making and cause delays in care, medical errors, and unanticipated patient-safety events. By providing individual, tailored training for physicians struggling with EHR usability, this project aims to improve EHR experience and mitigate EHR-related stressors, decreasing EHR burden and improving physician well-being.

School of Medicine Well-Being Pilot Awards (2020)

The Center collaborated with the UNC School of Medicine Office of Faculty Affairs and Leadership Development to offer awards that fund pilot projects aimed at promoting the well-being of faculty, staff, and/or students at the UNC School of Medicine as well as medical trainees serving within the UNC Health system.

PI: Dr. Terry Noah, MD, Professor (Pediatrics), Co-PI: Dr. Suzanne M. Kennedy, PhD, Administrative Director (Pediatrics)

Long work hours, charting and administrative duties, family obligations, and a culture of infallibility all contribute to physician burnout and poor well-being. While individually accessible wellness initiatives are currently available, UNC clinical department well-being scores remain consistent with the national average. UNC School of Medicine hopes to sustain and improve faculty well-being by using certified health coaches to help build personalized development plans which are integrated into the existing departmental faculty development and mentorship infrastructure.