Innovating Lives: A Dialogue on Healthcare Innovation

Nurses that provide direct care to patients strive to put their patients first. The patients are why nurses do the work they do each day. Yet, nursing care is not seamless. You may not be aware but nurses are constantly faced with challenges that get in the way with delivering the care patients deserve each day.

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These challenges cannot stop the nurse from doing what is needed to care for the patient.  Some examples of more common challenges faced by nurses might be that the…


*patient’s medication is not on the floor when it is due to be given.

*patient isn’t well enough to be transported to radiology for x-ray.

*patient and/or family do not speak the same language as the  nurse.

*the patient is a hard IV stick.

*the patient cannot swallow pills.


These challenges happen daily in a nursing care environment.  Some challenges may happen to the same nurse on the same day!  Yet, the nurse cannot stop giving care when faced with one of these challenges.


Instead, nurses begin to problem solve and identify how to remove the challenge and ultimately individualize the patient’s care needs. By problem solving, nurses are identifying a solution to the presented challenge. Often, these solutions are labeled as ‘work arounds’.


Nurses ‘work around’ the identified challenge. However, work arounds are indicative of higher-level solvable problem, if addressed at a system level, within the health care organization. What does that mean? Well, take for example, the patient and/or family member that does not speak the same language as the nurse. Health care organizations address this by providing translator services to their patients, families and staff to remove the language barrier and allow for effective communication about health status. This challenge is alleviated by organizational infrastructure through policies, protocols, and staff at a minimum.


Yet, so many of these challenges, or problems nurses solve each day, are not addressed. These challenges also affect their colleagues’ work day and their assigned patients. Yet, each nurse or patient may experience this at a different time and the problem is often solved for that instance. So, instead of solving for that one instance, what if nurses began to think about solving at a system level, for the institution, patient population, profession or even the nation? Take those workarounds and turn them into pilot tests that can then be brought to scale to affect work to apply it across the total volume of affected people.


Translating workarounds into new innovations, (e.g., new products, services, or methods) requires more time, effort, resources, and attention, to ensure there are available pathways for nurses to move forward in either an intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial path.


This brings me to the inspiration for this blog post. A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate on a panel entitled Innovating Lives: A Dialogue on Healthcare Innovation at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation at the National Museum for American History. I was honored to be on the panel with Anna Young, Co-Founder of MakerHealth and Susannah Fox the former Chief Technology Officer for the United States Health and Human Services Department. Susannah moderated the event and asked intriguing questions to stimulate a thought provoking discussion around what we need to consider when innovating in healthcare, especially from the perspective of nurses caring for patients at the bedside.




We had an engaging conversation discussing the need for innovation in healthcare and the process for how to think about getting started on a design for a software or a hardware solution. A great summary of the event is located here:


The more we encourage thinking around how to solve health care challenges as a scalable solution,the greater the likelihood we can solve some of these challenges at a more rapid pace and potentially more effectively. Over the last year, I have found myself saying often in front of nursing audiences, “No one will come knocking on your door to solve a problem they don’t know exists.” This means that we need more nurses to help tackle problems that are affecting us all. With over 3 million nurses in the United States, think of the impact if we all took on one challenge that we felt compelled to solve? What a difference that would bring to our patients….