Devices & Technology

Nurse Inventors Turn Experience into Innovation

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By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor 

May 13, 2012 - Nurses’ main desire is to help their patients. Sometimes, though, they’re missing just the right tool to help them do that. Here, two nurses discuss how they turned inspiration into innovation to invent the missing piece to perfect their patient care, followed by advice on how other nurses can turn their ideas into reality.

Simplifying the swaddle  

As a nurse visiting new families in their homes, Lynette Damir noticed that many new parents had one problem in common: They struggled with swaddling.

“I observed two consistent problems: First, the blankets they were using were too small or too thick, and second, they could not remember how to make a good secure swaddle,” she recalled. “They remembered the nurses in the hospital wrapping their baby to calm and comfort their little one and they consistently asked me to share the secret of the hospital nurses.”

Damir wanted to help, but she couldn’t find a blanket on the market to recommend--they were either too small to make a secure swaddle, rectangular and difficult to use, or constructed of fabric like slippery satin that was inappropriate for swaddling. In 2002, after a year of research, studying safety standards for baby products and consulting with many medical professionals, Damir launched SwaddleDesigns, combining her health care background and her design education from the Art Institute of Seattle.

“I developed the Ultimate Receiving Blanket using lightweight, breathable, baby soft cotton,” she said. “I designed my blanket much larger than a typical receiving blanket and square in shape. I chose every component based on its quality, texture, durability and visual appeal. Best of all, I included pictorial swaddling instructions sewn to the edge of the blanket. No blanket prior to mine had included swaddling instructions, and no blanket prior to mine attached the steps of how to swaddle directly to the blanket, so I filed for a patent in 2003.”

SwaddleDesigns’ first customer was a major hospital that purchased 4,000 blankets with a custom fabric pattern Damir designed for their new parent gift program. Soon after, local and national retailers caught on, and this year marks SwaddleDesigns’ seventh year at Nordstrom department stores, with a wide assortment of products also on sale at BuyBuyBaby,, Amazon and 1,000-plus stores in the United States and abroad.

Damir is proud that her initial idea to help new parents in her local area evolved into a phenomenally successful business benefiting parents worldwide.

“I founded SwaddleDesigns with the desire to help parents calm and comfort their babies so everyone can get more sleep,” she said. “We have received thousands of testimonials from parents, doctors, pediatricians, nurses, and newborn care instructors who have thanked us for helping them calm and comfort their babies and for helping to educate new parents. The parents, especially, are very passionate about our helpful blankets--no one likes to be sleep deprived. I think over the last nine years, we have helped over a million people get more sleep.”

No more no nos  

Jill Drew, a PACU nurse in Maryland, turned a personal experience into a patient-safety product called the NoNo Sleeve, a simple alert band that prevents health care providers from inserting IVs or doing blood draws or blood pressures on the wrong arm.

“We are seeing a massive increase in the number of end-stage renal patients as a result of diabetes and untreated hypertension. Many of these patients have what is known as an AV fistula that provides an access for dialysis. They are placed surgically and require a maturation period before they can be used,” Drew explained.

“The AV fistulas are considered the gold standard for access, but the arm that is used for the AV fistula can no longer be used for routine medical procedures like blood pressure, IVs or blood draws. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious that the patient has an AV fistula--or has had a mastectomy with lymph node removal--and they are often used accidentally.”

Drew added that there are many reasons this can happen, including patients’ inability to advocate for themselves due to their illness or anesthesia. For these patients, the NoNo Sleeve provides peace of mind.

“My inspiration for the NoNo Sleeve is my father-in-law. As a dialysis patient, he says he sleeps with one eye open during hospitalizations, as he is anxious about the health care providers damaging his AV fistula,” she continued. “The NoNo Sleeve seemed like a simple fix.”

Drew crafted her product herself using red stretchy fabric--“the universal color for stop”--to create a physical and visual barrier for patients to wear to alert providers of the presence of an AV fistula. Then she began her own grassroots sales and marketing effort to bring the product to hospitals, and she says she’ll keep knocking on doors and hoping they open. The benefit to patients and providers, she says, is worth it.
“Patients really appreciate having the NoNo Sleeve, and it’s nice for the nurses because nobody wants to make an error,” she said. “We as nurses are happy to have anything in place that helps us protect our patients.”

Putting your idea into place  

Other nurses interested in following Damir’s and Drew’s lead may be able to benefit from resources such as the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA), which offers a free booklet called “48 Great Tips for Bringing a New Idea to the Market from Your Home,” as well as a number of free articles on its website. Pat Bemis, RN, NNBA president, explained that nurses must first have business savvy if they’re interested in becoming entrepreneurs or inventors.

“Unfortunately, nursing and business are two different worlds. The knowledge base is entirely different. Nursing is about giving of oneself to the benefit of another and business is about earning money,” Bemis said, still adding that there are certain qualities nurses possess that can benefit them in business.

“The only qualities of nursing that help in business are nurses’ tenaciousness and the use of the nursing process that is second nature to most nurses,” she said. “Gather information, analyze the information, develop a plan, implement the plan, evaluate the outcome, and revise the plan as needed.”

But Damir believes nurses have more business sense than meets the eye.

“I think nurses make great entrepreneurs. We are organized, creative, critical thinkers, great problem solvers and we get things done,” she said. “These skills have been well honed in my nursing career, and have continued to serve me well as a business woman. I feel that my medical knowledge as a nurse, my understanding of infant physiology and new mom psychology are very helpful to me with my baby product business, and being a nurse gives me insight to design with baby’s best interest in mind.”

Both Damir and Drew recommend that any other nurse with an innovative idea take the initiative and pursue it. 
“You have to go for it!” Drew said. “Utilize an intellectual property attorney if appropriate, and find out if the institution you work for might have an innovation department to help you take your idea to market. There will be many naysayers, but the main thing is to stick with it.”

Damir agreed, adding:  “Do your research: study the market to see what already exists; see if there is demand for your idea; educate yourself regarding safety standards; learn about marketing and best practices for business. Formulate a plan to create a sustainable differential advantage, consult with an intellectual property attorney and be prepared to work very hard.”

“As a nurse, you know what hard work is, so you can do it,” Damir concluded.


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