MIT initiative wants to turn nurses into inventors

By Aditi Pai
09:51 am


MIT's Little Devices Lab announced a new initiative to support innovation for nurses at New York's 2013 World Maker Faire last week.

Little Devices Lab, which develops technologies for the healthcare environment, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched a six month initiative, MakerNurse, to travel the country and talk to nurses in order to learn what technologies and systems nurses use to improve healthcare, and further, what technologies they've conceived on their own.

Little Devices Lab director Jose Gomez-Marquez and interim Pioneer Portfolio Team Director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Lori Melichar are heading the venture.

Gomez-Marquez's first step in the project is to do the research and plan out where the team will end up going when it's time to start traveling and talking to nurses.

"We will use that information along with other information from other sources to guide us and overlap with regions that we will actually visit," Gomez-Marquez told MobiHealthNews. "We don't want to just decide that we're going to go to a hospital in Boston, a hospital in Houston, and we're good. We need to understand where, first of all, these daily fabrications are happening and based on that information we'll be traveling across the country visiting different hospital and clinical sites, talking to nurses, shadowing them, understanding what the daily workflow is like within the lens of what our lab specializes in."

After that, and for the next six months, the team at MakerNurse plans to collect stories from nurses across the nation in order to understand what tools nurses use, why they use the tools and how they fix problems and improve the patient experience.

Gomez-Marquez and his team plan to ask a number of questions, such as what products nurses they using, what type of devices are they modifying, what type of tools do they use to do that, and what are the materials centered around those things. They are also curious whether nurses get permission for improvised solutions, how they get recognized, and where the "water cooler" is for nurses to talk about these types of things.

Beyond that, Little Devices Lab Medical Device Designer Anna Young told MobiHealthNews that their team plans to also pinpoint differences between hospitals in different geographical settings and possibly how nurses operate in different departments within a hospital.

Already, MakerNurse, which recently launched a beta version of its website has received feedback from nurses interested in sharing their makeshift solutions with the team. While MakerNurse will publish the nurses' responses on the website eventually, for now Gomez-Marquez just disclosed that nurses have contributed stories about finding alternative uses for the items in supply closets instead of making solutions from scratch.

"In the nursing profession one of the things we're getting into, and we know we're going to need more confirmation of, ... is that they don't make these things in the way that an orthopedic surgeon designs a device," Gomez-Marquez said. "Where [the surgeon will] make it and will be very proud of their invention, and basically send it out into the world as fast as possible, and try to get a patent, nurses make in a very, very quiet way. Nurses come from a culture of what they call a workaround, where they find little ways to work around the normal protocol to get the job done."

When the six month period expires, the team will publish the findings, issue guidelines and begin designing resources for nurses from what they've learned.

"Our goal for the longterm is that we have these two worlds of DIY makers and allied nurses and physicians and we converge them and they play well together," Gomez-Marquez said. "We sometimes have a foot in each world but the reality is that there are enough problems that a lot of people can get involved."

On a more specific level, Gomez-Marquez sees a benefit in connecting nurses to other nurses who have different skill sets in order to grow the community that he hopes to build with this initiative. As for the makers, he plans to reach out to people like NYU's adjunct professor John Schimmel who have experience making technology for health-related purposes.

"The most wired nurses, the ones that are on Instagram and on Twitter, they are not all in the same group as the ones that know how to save your life in 150 ways using a paper clip, you know using a metaphor from MacGyver," Gomez-Marquez said. "...We can't just say let's just skip a generation and work with the ones that are already online. The other ones are already saving lives."

Six years in, Gomez-Marquez believes his experience has led him to understand the way nurses work and how to properly approach them about the questions his team has as they begin their six month initiative.

"We approach them respectfully, we work around their schedule, we don't just say 'the Little Devices Lab is in town, meet me at this time,'" Gomez-Marquez said. "We recognize that they're busy and respect that, but at the same time we have enormous response from nurses who are elated that someone is paying attention to them and not because they have already invented something but because  there is something they want to DIY and create themselves."


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