MacGyver Comes to Healthcare

Roxanne Nelson, BSN, RN


April 12, 2016

Nurses: Natural Innovators

Keeping the site of an intravenous (IV) catheter clean and dry is important, and products currently on the market can be used to cover the site if the patient wants to take a shower. But many of the available "solutions" are complicated and a hassle to use, Debra Flynn, RN, pointed out.

"I was thinking that it would be really nice to have something that's very simple to use," said Flynn, a nurse clinician in the Labor and Delivery Unit at the John Sealy Hospital of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. "I came up with this idea—it's one-size-fits-all, goes over the whole arm, and has drawstrings at the shoulder and fingertips."

Flynn's idea is very simple and low-tech: basically a plastic sleeve that protects the site not only while the patient is showering, but also during procedures that pose a danger of the site becoming soiled. "What we usually do now is cover the site and tape it, but that can be very time-consuming," she explained. "With the plastic sleeve, you just put it on and go."

Flynn has already created a prototype for the protective sleeve, which uses an impulse sealer, vinyl, and string. "It's a very simple design," she said, "And I think this can make the process of showering really easy and safe."

Flynn is just one of several nurses who are now making full use of the MakerHealth™ Space at UTMB-Galveston, which is the first of its kind in the country. MakerHealth Space is a workshop for nurses and other healthcare providers to brainstorm ideas for healthcare innovations that will improve patient care, and to build physical prototypes of their ideas. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Sign at the MakerHealth Space at UTMB-Galveston. Courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

For most nurses, innovation is part of the job and a necessity in the workplace. Nurses are always solving problems with "workarounds," customized medical equipment, and do-it-yourself makeshift devices that ensure patient comfort and safety. Whether it's cutting bandages to fit the arm of a 2-pound preemie, rolling blankets to create a cough pillow, or figuring out how to secure an ostomy bag that won't stay put, nurses have been finding solutions since the earliest days of the profession.

However, most nurse-created solutions turn out to be one-trick ponies, or at least they rarely spread beyond a single hospital unit. In many cases, these solutions never go beyond the idea stage or even get written down.

MakerNurse™, an initiative of the Little Devices Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that launched in September 2013 with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was created with the goal of empowering nurses and to encourage nurse "making" to change the face of healthcare. "It actually began as a research project," said Anna Young, cofounder of MakerNurse. "It was based on our work in Central America, and we wanted to see if it was applicable to the United States."


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