NURSES: THE PIONEERS OF PROBLEM SOLVING IN MEDICINE
“I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.” ~ Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale is known as a pioneer in nursing. Nightingale saw opportunities to improve the care of patients in the face of challenges that still plague our health care environments today. Some challenges include noise, risks of infection, comfort, and nutrition. Her writings in ‘Notes on Nursing’ demonstrate an effort to innovate care delivery through the nursing profession. While known for her influence on modern nursing, her role in driving nurse innovation is not highlighted as often.
When the word innovate or innovation is used, one tends to think of a technological advancement that introduces a new way of doing something that may be faster, cheaper or more accurate. Yet, innovation can mean something much broader. Innovations are a new products, services or processes. The definition is simple with minimal boundaries.
In order to innovate, one must have an idea. In order to have an idea, one must have the right mindset. The mindset must be seeing problems as opportunities that need solutions, rather than barriers.
Nurses are natural innovators as they are involved in problem solving for their patients every day. Nurses know that the barriers they encounter cannot prohibit the delivery of patient care. Nurses must solve problems and this is often done through a workaround.
A common term in the nursing profession to describe nurses’ innovative methods is “workaround.” Workarounds are pervasive in health care environments. For example, nurses often use scrap pieces of paper, post it notes and paper towels to transmit patient data and information daily. The use of these tools are workarounds. Workarounds are clues to system level opportunities to innovate at scale. Some problems and associated workarounds have transformed into scalable innovations that we take for granted today. The crash cart, neonatal phototherapy, and the American Red Cross were all started by nurses. Can you imagine what care delivery would look like without these three innovations?
In recent years, the health care industry has increasingly used the word innovation to describe the work of solving exciting problems in the larger community. Every day I look at the words used in such headlines and rarely find the word ‘nurse’ or ‘nursing’ in them. I noticed this several years ago and began writing more about nurses. In doing so, I’ve realized there are dozens of nurses working behind these headlines on big problems faced by our health care professionals and patients each day. With over 3 million nurses in the United States, I suspect there are many more.
Thus, going forward this column will be a monthly feature of nurse driven innovation in health care. We aim to share with the MedTech Boston community newsworthy nurse innovators and innovations that are a result of nurses solving real problems facing health care today. In sharing these stories, we hope that others will view their nursing knowledge as an advantage in solving problems that have not yet been addressed by others. Perhaps many will also consider taking their skills and innovative ideas into an entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial pathway to help the many others whom will benefit from such innovations.