Leadership Spotlight: Pioneering Quality and Innovation: “Getting Better at Getting Better”

In the dynamic landscape of health care innovation, Michael Pignone, MD, MPH, hopes to serve as a beacon of transformative leadership within the Duke Department of Medicine (DOM). Appointed as the inaugural vice chair for Quality and Innovation, Pignone brings a wealth of expertise and a resolute commitment to advancing health care excellence and equity.

Drawing from his extensive background at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Pignone is particularly well-positioned to lead DOM's efforts into operational quality improvement and health system science. At UNC, he founded the School's Institute for Healthcare Quality Improvement (IHQI), bringing together its academic and operational missions in quality improvement and patient safety. Through IHQI, Dr. Pignone developed and led a competitive process to select and guide six clinical improvement projects per year, including faculty leadership development activities, across the School of Medicine and Health System.

In 2016, Dr. Pignone was recruited to become the inaugural chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the new Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, where he spearheaded the creation of infrastructure within the Department of Internal Medicine, laying the groundwork for innovative approaches to care delivery and health equity.

In his role as vice chair for Quality and Innovation, Dr. Pignone seeks to position DOM as a national leader in quality improvement, leveraging the power of implementation science and health services research to advance quality and equity. His strategic approach encompasses faculty development initiatives, capacity-building efforts, and the cultivation of innovative care delivery models tailored to meet the evolving needs of patients and communities.

As a primary care physician himself, Dr. Pignone is excited to also serve as the faculty director of Primary Care Transformation at the Margolis Center for Health Policy. In this role, he will spearhead initiatives aimed at redefining primary care delivery, including the implementation of effective, patient-centered team-based care for patients with chronic conditions.  Drawing on his research in developing innovative means of delivering preventive care, Dr. Pignone will also lead a program on Cancer Screening Equity within the  Duke Cancer Institute underscoring his commitment to health care equity and access. By leading efforts to increase cancer screening rates for underserved populations, he aims to address disparities in cancer care and improve outcomes for vulnerable communities.

Reflecting on his vision for the future, Dr. Pignone underscores the imperative of differentiation and innovation in propelling DOM toward unparalleled excellence. "We need to move Duke Medicine forward in terms of its performance, so we really need to differentiate ourselves from our local and national peers," he said. "In my role as vice chair for Quality and Innovation, I'm hoping to build the skill set to enable that differentiation to happen. There's also an element of moving forward in the field of implementation science and improvement. There’s no place better to do that in a place like Duke that's well-resourced and has a lot of bright people so that we get better at the process of getting better."

Dr. Pignone has wasted no time in laying the groundwork for transformative change within DOM. With a clear focus on expanding capacity and fostering expertise in quality improvement across all 12 divisions, he has embarked on a strategic initiative aimed at empowering faculty members to lead equity-focused improvement projects within their respective areas. Dr. Pignone’s ambitious three-year plan entails selecting six to seven projects annually from different divisions, with the goal of enhancing outcomes while simultaneously cultivating a culture of continuous improvement. Through collaborative efforts with department and health systems leaders and experts in performance improvement, Dr. Pignone provides vital support and mentorship to project leaders, fostering a dynamic environment where learning and knowledge-sharing are paramount. This proactive approach not only drives tangible improvements within DOM but also equips faculty members with invaluable skills in quality improvement—an essential step towards achieving the department's overarching goals of excellence and innovation in health care delivery.

Moving back to Durham after seven years in Austin, Dr. Pignone has enjoyed being back at the old stomping grounds- he first came to Durham in 1984 as a Duke undergraduate. He kept his home in Durham when he worked at the University of Texas; never really fully moving because his children were in high school. Dr. Pignone says it’s been nice to be back full-time here with his wife, Lisa, and their children, Kevin and Kaley, who attend UNC. Kaley is an undergraduate student, and Kevin is pursuing a PhD. He is also happy to renew his Duke basketball season tickets!

Pignone family
Dr. Pignone with his wife Lisa, and their children Kevin and Kaley

At a time when the World Health Organization is calling for institutions to accelerate impact in health outcomes by leveraging innovative approaches, Dr. Pignone’s strategic leadership promises to help the department continue its mission to move medicine forward equitably.