Innovation: The Power of Discussion

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Nurses are some of the most innovative, creative people. Certainly, nursing is an art as well as a science. I can remember, particularly in the neonatal unit, seeing and even doing many things to accomplish a task for which there were no appropriate instruments or equipment. While equipment and supplies have been miniaturized and created to meet many of the needs, there remain gaps as medicine, and therefore, nursing advances, not just in neonates but in all areas of healthcare. In many cases, it may be a better way to accomplish something than what is available today. Think about changes that have occurred over the years in technology. I recently saw a video of a child, about 6 or 7 years old, looking at a pay phone and asking his mother what it was for. Now, cell phones are really miniaturized computers where the camera and apps are often more important than the phone itself. Self-driving cars are being developed, perhaps some rocky areas to come but nevertheless, a foreseeable invention. Self-driving airplanes are probably not that far away. The skies are much bigger giving a larger margin for error and autopilot has existed for years.

I was recently at a conference where there was a presentation on genomics testing. This is a reality now and quite useful in the neonatal population. A diagnosis can be provided that may not otherwise be made until after death, if at all. With the new technology that has been developed, the diagnosis can be made in as little as 19 hours, allowing treatment in cases where there is treatment available or knowledge about best approach in cases where there is no treatment.

At this same conference, a presentation was made about fetal surgery. The presenter talked about the challenges they faced in getting instruments small enough to complete the procedure. They went to manufacturers to request miniaturization of some instruments and creation of others. For instance, suturing a fetus’ skin is quite time consuming resulting in longer anesthesia for the mother and related risks. There is a stapler that is small enough for some minimally invasive surgery but not quite small enough for this purpose. So, they approached a manufacturer who is working on the appropriate instrument which will improve outcomes for these mothers and babies.

In those cases where something just can’t be done without the equipment, folks are often successful at getting someone to create the product. However, in cases where the product may improve the process, many of us create work-arounds or alternatives to accomplish the task. In some cases, these work-arounds can be potentially harmful. A manufactured product undergoes testing and safety parameters must be met before use on a patient. If you could improve your workflow or patient outcomes with the proper tool, chances are, someone else could use it as well. If you have an idea, take the steps to create the product. Research in this area indicates that social networks are an important element in developing ideas for innovation. Often, discussing the problem and ideas for solving it will lead to more than one possible solution. All of these ideas create a stronger end product. We discuss these conundrums often amongst colleagues – how best to respond to a specific problem seen in a patient, especially unusual problems. This discussion often yields a better approach. The same is true when developing new products. This step is essential and refers to a social network that may look at the problem and/or solution from a different point of view (Kijkuit, & van den Ende, 2010; Nelson, Brice & Gunby, 2010). This may begin as a discussion with colleagues who face the same or similar issues but extends beyond that for validation and successful invention. The first step is to identify a need or recognize a problem that must be solved. The creation of ideas might be compared to the brainstorming process for quality improvement. Every idea is given equal consideration until the best process or product is identified.

What problem(s) have you faced that need to be solved? Is there a product that may solve the problem? Simply recognizing there might be a better way is the first step. By talking with others, ideas are created on how to solve the problem. With further discussion, the solution becomes more refined and realistic. Discussion helps others to realize that this problem exists and the solution is at hand. Talk about it with others, form your ideas and validate them with your social network. Creating solutions to problems that actually work can be a very satisfying and positive experience.

Nelson, M., Brice Jr, J., & Gunby Jr, N. W. (2010). INNOVATION ADOPTION DECISIONS: THE EFFECT OF PROBLEM SOLVING STYLES AND SOCIAL SUPPORT. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications & Conflict, 14(1).

Kijkuit, B., & van den Ende, J. (2010). With a little help from our colleagues: A longitudinal study of social networks for innovation. Organization Studies, 31(4), 451-479.

Written by Sandra Sundquist Beauman, MSN, RNC-NIC

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Sandra Sundquist Beauman has over 35 years of experience in neonatal nursing. She has worked in many clinical capacities, as a bedside nurse, educator, transport nurse and clinical nurse specialist.  She has lectured nationally and internationally and published many articles, edited the NANN Policies, Procedures and Competencies book in 2011 and 2018 as well as written and reviewed book chapters.  She currently works in a research capacity to improve healthcare for neonates.  You can find more information about Sandy and her work and interests on LinkedIn.

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