A Perioperative Nurse’s Innovation Journey: Revolutionizing Surgical Safety

How perioperative nurses are revolutionizing surgical safety

Embarking on my journey as a Unit Educator (UE) in the Operating Room (OR) at The University of Kansas Health System (TUKHS), little did I know that my penchant for creative problem-solving would prove invaluable in revolutionizing surgical safety. It was during a root cause analysis of a Retained Surgical Item (RSI) event involving a sponge that my career took an unexpected turn.

The Challenge: Redefining Sponge Counting in Surgical Safety

The current process of counting surgical sponges is not just time-consuming but also messy. The need for a more efficient solution became evident as we delved into the intricacies of preventing RSIs. The task at hand was to find a commercial product that could enhance the visibility of sponges. Also, reducing the likelihood of miscounts.

Researching existing Sponge Accounting Systems (SAS) and consulting with specialists revealed a gap in the market. There was a dearth of products providing the visibility we desperately needed. Fuelled by necessity, I conceptualized a SAS equipped with telescopic arms. It could be useful in expanding to improve the visibility of surgical sponges.

The Eureka Moment: From Problem to Innovation

Presenting my SAS concept at the subsequent root cause analysis meeting marked a pivotal moment in my career. Highlighting the limitations of current products, I emphasized how stacked sponge bags compromised visibility. Thereby, increasing the risk of RSIs. Also sponge bags posed a biohazard exposure for nurses conducting the counts. The Director of Perioperative, at the end of my presentation, posed a question that would alter my perspective: “Have you created a new product?”

This moment of realization led me to submit my idea to the Department of Innovation at TUKHS, setting the stage for a transformative journey in revolutionizing surgical safety.

From Idea to Innovation: A Collaborative Effort

Meeting with John Rochelle, the System Director for Digital Strategy and Innovation, proved to be a turning point. His belief in the potential of the SAS concept was encouraging, and he emphasized the elegance often found in simplistic ideas. With his support, I embarked on a journey that involved assembling a committee of nurses. Also, collaborating with an engineering firm, and navigating the complex processes of patent filing, market research, user surveys, product development, and testing.

As John had forewarned, the path to innovation was arduous. Developing survey tools, evaluating non-working prototypes, and refining designs were just the beginning. Seven working prototypes were delivered in February 2022 for extensive testing and user feedback. The response from the staff was overwhelmingly positive, validating the practicality and innovation of the new SAS.

The Road Ahead: Towards Commercialization and Global Impact

With trial success in hand, the focus shifted to providing the new SAS to all ORs within TUKHS, exploring commercial potential, and identifying a manufacturing partner for scale production. The prospect of contributing to the safety of surgical patients and OR staff worldwide is both humbling and gratifying. TUKHS’s commitment to fostering innovation through its dedicated innovation department played a crucial role in propelling my idea to this stage.

A Call to Action: Embracing Creativity in Healthcare

In conclusion, I urge healthcare professionals to not only be passionate but also to embrace moments of creativity in improving healthcare. My journey, from a simplistic idea to a potentially global innovation, has been a remarkable ride. The support from colleagues and leadership, coupled with TUKHS’s visionary approach to innovation, has been instrumental. As I continue down this path, I am inspired by the belief that even the simplest ideas have the power to revolutionize and contribute to the betterment of healthcare practices globally.

Embrace innovation, foster creativity, and never underestimate the impact your ideas could have on the world of healthcare. My journey serves as a testament to the transformative potential of a single, creative idea in the realm of perioperative nursing.

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