In the Wink of an Eye

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By Stephanie Shapiro

Innovation Hub offers a safe space to ponder and improve patient care

At Sibley Memorial Hospital, it has been routine to present newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with piles of information about the disease, treatment options, self-care, recovery, surgical reconstruction, and other related materials.

Although Jennie Tarica, MSN, RN, Sibley’s breast cancer nurse navigator, cares deeply about her patients, she had never before considered whether what is “routine” for a caregiver like her may be overwhelming for the women she advises.

 Illustration by Shaw Nielsen

Recently, a project called the Breast Cancer Journey, made possible by the Sibley Innovation Hub, gave Tarica the opportunity to interview patients about their health care experiences. She learned that many were not prepared to digest large quantities of information at once. Working with the Hub team, she and her colleagues devised a prototype for an information toolkit patients can refer to “when and if they want it, on their own terms,” Tarica says.

Launched in 2014 as an incubator for imagining the future of health care, the Hub uses a model called “design thinking” that focuses on the “end user,” says Matt Brown, MSN, RN, a geriatric nurse navigator and clinical adviser to the Hub. “Design thinking is not about some fancy project or app or widget; it’s about the people who use the project, app, or widget.”

Housed in an expansive, open space stocked with brainstorming tools like crayons and Post-It Notes, the Hub invites creativity. Hospital staff, volunteers, patients, families, and community members are welcome to share ideas for improving patient care and clinical quality or tackling a problem.

Guided by the Hub team, multidisciplinary groups move projects through a collaborative process of study, design, prototyping, and testing. Brown occasionally fills in for floor nurses so they can contribute. “I want to make sure the workflow and all other parts of nursing are included in the design work,” he says.

Nurses’ experience is essential to the process, says Hub Executive Director Nick Dawson, MHA. What’s more, “They are experts in listening to patients.”

The Hub has supported a variety of projects spearheaded by nursing staff. One nurse’s concern about an increase in central line infections led to “Do the Twist,” a poster campaign reminding nurses to scrub catheter parts more thoroughly.

Brown and other nurses are involved in designing a prototype menu for patients that allows them to call for newspapers, puzzles, or games when bored. The goal is to encourage them to feel “comfortable asking for big things,” such as help going to the bathroom, a time when patient falls are more likely to occur, Brown says. “The message is: ‘Please don’t think it’s not OK to call for what you really need.’ ”

Sibley nurses also conceived the Wink Project, an initiative that remotely connects mothers confined to bed with their newborns in the special care nursery. Wink visits between parents and their babies take place using iPads attached to IV poles and videoconferencing software.

When mothers can’t have a physical visit with their baby, “it makes them so sad,” says Alexis White, RN, nurse manager of Sibley’s family center care unit. A Wink visit gives them a “sense of comfort that your baby’s OK and reassurance from the baby’s nurse.”

Working on the Wink Project has given White a glimpse of how innovation can upend standard practices in health care for the good. “I think it transcended boundaries that I never knew I would cross in my nursing career,” White says. “My nurses don’t need to ask me for permission to enable a Wink visit. They have the autonomy to offer it to patients  if they see a medical need. It’s as simple as that.”

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