November 6, 2017

Can 'nurse hacks' lead to tomorrow's big medical innovations?

Daily Briefing

    Bedside nurses are using their practical understanding of patient care to develop products that address issues such as patient falls or IVs that become unhooked—and nursing schools and hospitals are offering support to launch these endeavors.

    A nurse's perspective

    According to Rebecca Love, director of the Nurse Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at Northeastern University, research shows nurses spend a considerable amount of time configuring workaround solutions for ineffective equipment and processes. For instance, nurses might use medical tape to secure a device that doesn't fix securely on a patient.

    While making these adaptations take time away from patients, nurses' ability to develop such workarounds also shows potential for creating new tools and procedures to improve care delivery, the Boston Globe reports.

    Empowering nurses as entrepreneurs

    As a result, some nursing schools and hospitals are offering support to nurses with innovative care ideas, according to the Globe. The Northeastern University program, for instance, has connected at least 20 nurses with business mentors, attracted about 1,600 people to related business events, and plans to launch a certificate program, the Globe reports.

    Separately, Massachusetts General Hospital offers grants to nurses and other patient care workers who have ideas on how to improve operating procedures. For instance, Jared Jordan, a nurse at Massachusetts General, through the grant program is working on a product that will help patients use the bathroom independently without the risk of falling. The product would allow the patient enough stability to enter and use the bathroom without a nurse's assistance. According to the Globe, Jordan's primary goal is not to make money but to address the broader issue of falls in hospitals and other health care settings. "I love being a bedside nurse, and I couldn't imagine not doing that," Jordan said. "I want this product to take off because I just think it's going to be so impactful."

    Elsewhere, Maggie McLaughlin, a nurse at Tufts Medical Center and a specialist in IV procedures, last year began researching how to prevent IV tubes from becoming unhooked from infants. When she learned there is not a universal tool for safely locking the line into an infant-sized body, she started working on developing an IV connection that's flatter and more secure than the options on the market, Rosen reports.

    She's joined forces with a former nurse she met at a Northeastern University event to create IV Safe T, a company to produce and market the device. According to The Globe, the university is helping McLaughlin and her colleague protect their intellectual property and get up to speed on the market for their device.

    The benefits of fostering nurse innovation

    According to the Globe, programs that support nurse-led projects aim "to put nurses on equal footing with other professions, including doctors, who are commonly seen as the most likely innovators in medicine."

    Tim Raderstorf—chief innovation officer at Ohio State University College of Nursing, which has a studio where students, faculty, and staff can test ideas—said, "Although [nurses] are the largest profession in health care, we tend to have the least influence when it comes to making decisions."

    In turn, empowering nurses as entrepreneurs can make a big difference when it comes to nurse retention. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation research has shown that nurses who have autonomy and feel involved in decision-making report being more likely to remain in their job (Rosen, Boston Globe, 10/25; Minemyer, FierceHealthcare, 10/30).

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