2014 JQS Award Nominee, JQS2014

David Mayer, MD, MedStar Health



David Mayer, MD

David Mayer’s career centers around engaging patients—as an anesthesiologist, a medical educator and as VP, Quality & Patient Safety, MedStar Health. Whether engaging patients at the bedside, recruiting patient advocates to help design patient safety curriculum, or leading a ten-hospital health system to zero preventable harm while seeking high reliability, Dave openly shares that his best teachers have been patients and families. The depth and quality of his relationships in these communities are the strongest evidence of his commitment to patient engagement. Helen Haskell, Rosemary Gibson, Sorrel King, and others, are not only professional advisors, they are friends.


While engaging patients in a meaningful way remains a new concept to many in healthcare, Dave has welcomed and incorporated the patient voice into his work for well over a decade. Since May of 2012, Dave has embedded this innate value in his work at MedStar Health. One of his first priorities when coming to MedStar two years ago, was to build a Patient & Family Advisory Council for Quality & Safety (PFACQS), gathering an all-star cast of patient and family advocates to collaborate with MedStar’s leadership in a quest for zero preventable harm. Additionally, Dave is also leading the transformation of our safety culture, as we seek to become a high reliability organization built upon a just culture that takes a systems approach in all we do. Our PFACQS, comprised of leading patient and family advocates from around the U.S., have been a driving force in helping Dave lead that change by reminding us that keeping patients safe and changing culture requires keeping caregivers safe and inspired at the frontlines.

To our knowledge, no other health system has gathered a group of patient and family advocates as accomplished as this group of advisors, however Dave has been working with these folks on various projects over the last decade, making it a natural fit to include them in his work at MedStar. Helen, Rosemary, Marty Hatlie, Michael Millenson, Patty Skolnik, Knitasha Washington, and Carole Hemmelgarn all enthusiastically accepted Dave’s invitation to join the PFACQS and add their voice to MedStar’s further transformation. As an innovator, Dave saw the need to take the patient voice into both the MedStar boardroom and leadership meetings when advocating for large-scale change across a large health system. He knew that transforming a health system of 30,000 associates would not be an easy task, but he also knew that it could never be accomplished without the engagement of patients to keep us headed in the right direction.

In addition to his work at MedStar, Dave is celebrating his 10th Anniversary as founder of the Telluride Patient Safety Roundtable and Summer Camps (Telluride), an interdisciplinary patient safety learning environment for medical, nursing and pharmacy students as well as resident physicians. Since 2004, Dave has gathered thought leaders in patient safety from around the world in Telluride to discuss medical education patient safety curriculum. From day one, those thought leaders included patient and family advocates. The original goal of Telluride was to begin discussions in hope that they could redesign medical education in such a way that students would gain a greater understanding of patient safety throughout their training. Dave knew that engaging patients and families in these conversations would not only enrich that education, but also provide insight into areas we, as healthcare professionals, may miss. In 2010, the Telluride camps welcomed the inaugural class of students and resident physicians to be the first of over now 300 student beneficiaries of those conversations. Patient and family advocates have continued to return as part of the Telluride faculty, sharing their stories and impressing upon young care providers the need to engage patients as an integral piece of safe, high quality healthcare. Telluride has not only proven to be an educational experience like none other, but also a place of healing, empowerment and professional growth for all. This is truly a credit to Dave’s vision and steadfast belief of the good that comes from inviting patients and families into healthcare conversations.


The Telluride camps continue to engage patients and families as faculty alongside healthcare colleagues, and have broadened patient safety education and knowledge around what it means to engage patients for 300+ healthcare professionals. Alumni regularly report on initiatives they now lead at home institutions inspired by time in Telluride, and testify:

“It’s clear our week in Telluride transformed our thinking about quality and patient safety.”
Michael Kantrowitz, MD

“If I had spent four days locked in a library researching patient safety literature non-stop, I
would not have walked away with as much knowledge, enthusiasm, and support…”
Jon Hatoun, MD

At MedStar, each of the ten MedStar entities are in various stages of forming their own PFACQS comprised of patients from their communities. The team leading the local PFACQS project, which includes three system-wide PFACQS members, recently presented at the Maryland Patient Safety Conference, sharing the following FY2014 results to date:

  • Creation of a standard toolkit
  • 70% of MedStar entities have an organized steering committee meeting routinely
  • 40% of MedStar entities actively recruiting PFACQS members
  • PFACQS websites designed/launched with entity-specific branding
  • Local PFACQS already in place have:
    • Enhanced nurse-to-patient communication concerning mobility, falls and safety
    • Created patient-designed hospital orientation materials
    • Created a PFACQS Seal of Approval indicating review and endorsement of materials and/or processes

Dave Mayer speaks often that the true heroes of healthcare are patients and families–those who willingly share their stories so that others can experience a better iteration of healthcare. Dave has provided both a healing and teaching environment for providers and patients by inviting all to collaborate as teachers, bloggers, invited speakers and as audience members for a growing educational film series. He is modest, giving and patient. He is a healthcare innovator. He is a true healer.