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Innovating better patient care

By: Elizabeth Moore, MFA

While the idea of innovation can conjure images of high-tech gadgets and artificial intelligence, more often innovation is a result of changes in approach or philosophy that allow nurses to make an even greater impact on patient care. The American Nurses Association (ANA) “Leading innovation in nursing workshop,” held in Silver Spring, Maryland, last fall, gave nurses a methodology to help them approach innovation in their practices.

The innovation workshop is just one of the programs from ANA that aims to build a nursing culture of innovation. “We are supporting the growth of nurse-led innovation across our profession and at the national level to build a ‘healthier world through the power of nursing,’” said Oriana Beaudet, DNP, RN, PHN, vice president of innovation for the ANA Enterprise. “The complexity of healthcare requires nurses to be expansive in their thinking and with their actions across all levels of practice to transform the future of healthcare. I was once told, ‘Every nurse uses the science of nursing and the art of improv.’ The moment where knowledge and creativity intersect is where innovation begins to emerge.”

Culture change

Christi Zuber, PhD, MHA, RN, brought her perspective and vast experience in the field of human-centered design as the workshop instructor. Starting out as a home health nurse, Zuber found that she loved looking at the context of her patients’ lives and figuring out ways to optimize their care. Zuber later served as an administrator in a children’s hospital where she focused on implementing innovative patient- and family-centered care programs. She has since become an expert in the practice of human-centered design as an approach to innovation.

Zuber often hears nurses say that although they’re creative and have many ideas, they feel stuck or unempowered because innovation isn’t part of their organization’s culture. “Leadership is really important for a culture of innovation, but those working on the frontlines or in middle management can take it upon themselves to build a real movement of innovation,” she said. In her research, Zuber termed these movements “microclimates for innovation,” which can have a profound impact on the organization and those who work within it.

Microclimates for innovation, Zuber explained, arise from a key set of behaviors and conditions that exemplars have created to make innovation happen. A few of those include leveraging the aid of an advocate who provides the support needed to try things on a larger scale. Innovators make connections with people throughout their organization to build a system that helps them grow their capabilities from small, quick bedside hacks, for example, to larger projects with broader reach. They share stories and experiences with others to inspire them and build momentum for the work ahead. “Approaching innovation through the lens of human-centered design (also known as design thinking) provides you with a tangible methodology to make your innovation visions a reality,” Zuber said.

Innovation resources from ANA

Visit ANA’s web portal Innovation in Nursing and Healthcare, which includes ANA’s Innovation Roadmap, innovation framework (see framework, at left), and sections on nurse innovation highlights, resources for future nurse innovators, upcoming events, and awards.

“The innovation roadmap: A guide for nurse leaders” covers the characteristics of innovation and the components of innovation and team collaboration. The roadmap is available for download at

ANA’s online course bundle, “Creating an innovation culture and design thinking,” provides tools for exploring creativity in nursing and building your problem-solving skills, and a mastering design-thinking module that will help stretch your imagination.

The two courses in the bundle, “Creativity in nursing—America’s best kept secret” and “Creating a culture of innovation: Design thinking and why it matters to nurses,” are presented by Karen Tilstra, PhD, a licensed educational psychologist and co-founder of several innovation labs. The bundle can be completed at your own pace. To learn more and register, visit

“You can become part of microclimates or you can create them,” added Zuber, who is founder and managing director of Aspen Labs, a design and innovation consultancy practice based in Denver, with associates around the globe. “You can make an impact at the department level. Find peers, become an advocate, share stories, and people will see that you’re doing things in a different way. You might inspire another person or two, five, or 10 people—even an entire organization or practice. With the fluidity of networks and social media, the sky is the limit.”

Alternative way of thinking

Nurses also can apply analogous thinking—using information from another industry, for example, to find solutions to healthcare problems. “In thinking about how to get the influenza vaccine to more people, you might consider how restaurants use drive-throughs,” Zuber explained. “This is a tool in your methodology tool kit you can use. It helps to get us out of our mental valleys.” Learn more about nursing and creativity in Zuber’s article, “Creativity and innovation in health care,” in the January/March 2018 issue of Nursing Administration Quarterly.

Speak up about accomplishments

Nurses need to see the real power they have and articulate their value so they can insert their voices into conversations about innovation. “Don’t be shy about sharing your accomplishments and connecting with others to build real coalitions for change,” Zuber said. She also recommends that nurses invest in and build their leadership skills just as they do their clinical skills. “The more we show that there are nurses who are innovating and leading, the more nurses will see that they can do it, too,” Zuber said.

Nursing perspective

Workshop attendee Meenu Bansal, MSN, RN, CPN, clinical coordinator of products and technology, nursing professional practice, at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio, was recruited to her hospital’s innovation center specifically to add a nurse’s perspective. She believes nurses are natural innovators because they’re accustomed to creating workarounds on the job. “Nurses think creatively to make sure their patients get the best care,” she said.

Bansal was able to apply the tools she learned to the real-world environment. She is now working on several projects with the innovation center team, including one that’s in the prototype phase. “I love generating ideas and helping narrow them down to what can potentially work,” she said. “Using the human-centered design model introduced in the workshop reminds me that even though business and technology are valuable, we always need to start with the users and their values. It also helps us see the bigger picture.”

— Elizabeth Moore is a writer at ANA.

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