There are currently four million nurses in the U.S. (ANA, 2018). There are four times as many nurses as physicians and eight times as many nurses as pharmacists. Yet often we find that physicians or pharmacists are the “go to” when the tech industry needs input on new products. Generally, it is the physician that is sought out to provide clinical feedback and even provide input into the clinical workflows. Nurses should participate more frequently with tech companies in the design and development stages of new products, however they are often not asked.
What nurses bring to the conversation is their vast experience of the workflows associated with all aspects of patient care (certainly within their discipline). Considering that nurses are the most consistent part of the health equation, in that they spend more time with patients and their support systems than any other clinician, involving nurses early in the design and development process of any new and emerging technology only makes sense.
Nurses know better than most how to solve challenges that arise when providing patient care throughout the continuum. It is not uncommon for nurses to experience an average of one workaround due to operation and system failures per hour when providing care to patients (Tucker, A, 2009). But ironically, nurses typically don’t see themselves as innovators. In fact, when asked if they are innovators, nurses often respond by shaking their heads “no”. If pressed as to whether they do any workarounds to care for their patients or if they have ever “MacGyvered” anything in the workplace, nurses begin to raise their hands. This is, in fact, innovation, thus demonstrating that nurses are innovators and need to be encouraged to see themselves as such.
So how can nurses get involved in providing input and feedback in the design and development of new products and technologies? One way to do this it is to participate on a corporate board or advisory board. The Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC.org, 2018) is a great way for nurses who are looking to be matched with a company that would like to have nursing input on their corporate board. Another way to provide feedback on product development is to search for or talk with industry leaders about focus group opportunities.
It is important for nurses to share their knowledge and stories of patient care so that the “solutions” that are being developed truly solve real-world problems, not problems as understood by companies that are not the end users. It can’t be overstated how many new technologies are developed for healthcare purposes and are designed and constructed without the input of nurses in the early development phases. These solutions are often ineffective or simply don’t work because clinicians, especially nurses, were not involved, with their expertise in workflows and patient care. It goes without saying that each discipline is best suited to provide input into technologies and solutions that will impact their specific needs, and it is interesting how many products cross into the nursing “lane.”
Engaging nurses in innovation is also an opportunity for us to evaluate how we educate nursing students and how we can effectively cultivate innovation as a skill incumbent for all nurses. Innovation is a complex, real-world, collaborative approach to problem-solving and adding value, and it can be built into curricula or delivered to existing nurses through journals, in-services, continuing education, conferences, podcasts and so on.
Providing education to help nurses understand what innovation is, how innovation works, and even providing the opportunity to participate in innovation labs or “maker spaces” can change how we deliver patient care and develop technologies for healthcare. Live-action events such as pitch competitions or hack-a-thons are fun ways to teach nurses about innovation, design thinking and even failure.
Finding ways to bring nurses into the innovation conversation requires willingness, time and resources. Nurses belong to an incredibly talented and resourceful discipline and want to be involved. Look around and see if there is a nurse on the board of the next company you are looking at buying products from — and if there isn’t, ask them to consider appointing a nurse to their board. Transforming health is going to require all of us to work together and to think differently. Using the many talents of nurses as innovators will help us make the changes necessary to ensure that we can provide high-quality, cost-effective and safe patient care to everyone.
Originally published in MedTech Boston on February 22, 21019