MacGyver Comes to Healthcare

Roxanne Nelson, BSN, RN


April 12, 2016

Ideas Plus Engineers Equals Solutions

What evolved was a dedicated workspace filled with a cornucopia of tools and high-tech toys—everything from basic screwdrivers, adhesives, and fasteners (such as Velcro and zip ties) to textiles and electronics, including sensors and microcontrollers. There are also state-of-the-art 3D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines. (Figure 4)

Figure 4. Tools and supplies in the MakerHealth Space. Courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

"We have engineers who come down about once a month to help with ideas, and we are planning on hiring a full-time shop manager," he said. "In the meantime, they are training the trainers. We have a few nurses who are now familiar with the laser cutter and 3D printer, and the engineers have occasionally Skyped in and walked people through the equipment." (Figure 5)

Figure 5. A Pop Up Labs engineer demonstrates use of a laser cutter in the MakerHealth Space. Courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The site is increasing in popularity as more staff find out about it. The first week that it was open, about 100 people came through, and of those, about a quarter said they had ideas that they would like to discuss with someone. "Every month when the engineers are here, we have people coming into the space, and people are getting used to the equipment," Dr Marshall said. "We've had some of our physician colleagues come by, and they have an interest in creating a suctioning device."

Many nurses have already taken advantage of the space and have turned out interesting and useful devices. A nurse in the burn unit, for example, used polyvinylchloride piping with 3D-printed connectors to make a modular irrigation system to attach to the burn unit tub, thus creating a shower system that will help nurses more efficiently and effectively treat burn patients. (Figures 6 and 7)

Figure 6. Jason Sheaffer, a nurse in the Blocker Burn Unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, works on a prototype of one of his ideas to improve nurse efficiency and patient care in the MakerHealth Space lab. Courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Figure 7. The burn shower system prototype set up in the Burn Intensive Care Unit. In the background is burn unit nurse April Lane. Courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

A medical-surgical nurse used the laser cutter to create acrylic attachments for patient IV poles to keep supplies closer at hand.

Flynn explained that it was very helpful having the engineer there when she was making her prototype. "He walked me through it, made suggestions, and helped me with my ideas," she said. "I had the idea and he had the technical skill, so it was a great combination."

She is formulating another idea, which hasn't yet made it to the prototype stage. "I have C-section patients in mind, but this could really apply to any surgery," Flynn explained. After a C-section, it's difficult to cover up the incision and bandages so that the patient can take a shower. "I was looking to make something along the same lines as the IV cover, but this would be a little more complicated because of the incision site's location on the abdomen," she said. "But I haven't had a chance to really get to work on it yet."

Another UTMB nurse, Dell Roach, RN, a nurse manager in surgery and cardiothoracic/vascular surgery, has also been visiting the maker space with an idea she has for pediatric cardiology patients.

Her plan is to make the 12-lead ECG more child-friendly. Adult-sized electrodes sometimes must be cut to fit children, placed across the child's chest, and connected to the 12 leads that attach to the ECG machine. "This can be very time-consuming," she explained, "especially with babies and very small kids who are squirming and crying and moving around."

Roach's idea was to design a template based on the child's size, which could be placed on the chest and act as a portal to connect all the wires. "It would make it so much easier for the child and the nurses," she said. Nikolas Albarran, principal engineer at Pop Up Labs, helped Roach to design her prototype and demonstrated how to use the tools she will need when she begins constructing the prototype in physical form. "He was a great help," said Roach. "He walked me through a lot."

But before moving along, Roach would like to discuss it further with a cardiologist and maybe an ECG technician, to see how feasible and workable the device really is. "I keep thinking, why hasn't anyone come up with this idea before? Is it because no one has thought of it, or is it just not possible with the way the ECG works?"

But then maybe it's also time to update the ECG, she pointed out. "All of the technology has been updated on the ECG," Roach said. "Everything except the 12-lead process. That hasn't changed at all, so maybe it's time that was updated as well."


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