Today we announced that Boston Medical Center has won the 2013 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.

The judges recognized Boston Medical Center for its efforts to ease patients’ transitions from hospital to home, and honored it with the $100,000 prize—an award made possible in large part through the generosity of The Coca-Cola Foundation.

In all, the Drucker Institute received a record 864 applications this year from nonprofit organizations in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Under the Reengineering the Discharge Process initiative, launched in 2003 and known as Project RED, a Boston Medical Center team developed and tested 11 mutually reinforcing components that define a high-quality hospital discharge. An avatar named “Louise,” a virtual patient advocate, helps hospital staff to administer the components. Complementing the digital assistant’s work is a decidedly lower-tech tool: an individualized, spiral-bound color booklet, which is highly accessible to discharged patients with limited health literacy.

The booklet lays out just what people need to know in order to prepare them for the days between their discharge and their first outpatient visit —a period, studies show, when poor communication and inadequate information often trigger new medical problems, re-admissions to the hospital, increased costs and gaps in health and safety. Specifically, the booklet lists medications, provides a color-coded calendar of upcoming appointments and tests, contains an illustrated description of the discharge diagnosis and explains what to do if a problem arises.

“Among the things that most impressed the judges was the effectiveness of the discharge booklet,” said Rick Wartzman, the executive director of the Drucker Institute. “One of Peter Drucker’s core principles was that ‘innovations have to be handled by ordinary human beings. . . . Anything too clever, whether in design or execution, is almost bound to fail.’ Boston Medical Center has captured this idea perfectly with the simple elegance of its innovation and its impressive results.”

A randomized control trial, performed in 2009 with 749 patients, found a 30% lower rate of hospital utilization in the RED intervention group compared with usual care within 30 days of discharge. One readmission or emergency department visit was prevented for every seven participants receiving the intervention. What’s more, costs among the RED intervention group were nearly 34% lower as compared with usual care.

The Drucker Award judges also took note of how Boston Medical Center’s innovation is spreading. So far, RED is being replicated at more than 300 hospitals nationwide. And the system is being cited as a model under the Affordable Care Act, which is aiming to reduce hospital readmissions.

The final judges for the Drucker Award were Wartzman; Sumita Dutta, managing director at Golden Seeds; Geneva Johnson, former president and CEO of Family Service America and secretary of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute; Mario Morino, co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners and chairman of the Morino Institute; Sally Osberg, the president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation; and C. William Pollard, chairman emeritus of ServiceMaster Co. and a member of the Drucker Institute’s Board of Advisors.

“Project RED is an example of the innovative work we do here to provide safe, effective care to the whole patient,” said Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center. “We are extremely proud of the Project RED team, led by Brian Jack, and pleased to see them honored with the Drucker Award  for this creative approach to decreasing hospital readmissions.”

The Drucker Award has been given annually since 1991 to recognize existing programs that meet Peter Drucker’s definition of innovation—“change that creates a new dimension of performance.” The cash prize is designed to celebrate, inspire and further the work of innovative social-sector organizations based in the United States. Thanks to funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the first-place award will remain at $100,000 through at least 2015.

Wartzman pointed out that the Drucker Award application has itself become a way to teach nonprofits about Peter Drucker’s key principles of innovation. A survey of those completing this year’s application found that 93% said they now had a better understanding of how their program was innovative, and, most significantly, 84% said the application had prompted them to explore additional opportunities for innovation in their work.