Like many first-time parents, I put a great deal of thought into what my daughter’s “going home from the hospital” outfit would be. It had to be cute but not too girly. And since my due date was in May, which in Chicago means you never know what the weather will be like, I picked out a classic cardigan to go with the dress. My baby version of Audrey Hepburn would be set to go home in style. Also like many first-time parents, I didn’t know about the finer points of child-rearing, i.e. don’t by a newborn outfit with actual buttons. Buttoning tiny buttons on a dress is almost impossible with a squirming newborn. My first parenting lesson – snaps are the only way to go. The person who designed that dress must not have had children because an experienced parent would have known better.
“Knowing better” is an asset nurses have. Because they spend so much hands-on time with patients, they often have insights, ideas, and innovations that others never imagine. I’ve seen many interesting inventions designed by nurses. The No No Sleeve, ColorSafe IV Lines and Beata Clasp are all examples of products invented by nurses because they identified a need based on their professional experience.
Who better then to address the needs of e-patients than nurses? Nurses are the ones who interact most with patients in the bricks-and-mortar setting, aka the hospital. Doesn’t it make sense that they should also be connecting with patients in the digital realm? An article published in the January 2012 online edition of Nursing Outlook, looked at how e-patients and nurses could connect. According to the abstract, if nurse informaticists “evaluate, design, develop and determine the effectiveness of information systems used by e-patients,” nurse-patient interactions will be improved.
How and where should you start to find innovative ways to connect with e-patients? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Identify a Problem
Is there something is you find consistently annoying or think could be improved? For example, we all know it can be a hassle to get an appointment with a health care provider. You have to call the office, try to match your schedule with his or hers, and then you must take time off work to get to the appointment. That’s what makes nurse practitioner Raymond Zakhari’s Metro Medical District so intriguing. You can schedule an appointment with Zakhari via the website and then he comes to you. He sees patients in their home, office, hotel, etc. If you are traveling, you can have an appointment by web camera. Basically, he’s put a modern twist on the old-fashioned house call. Patients follow-up by logging into a secure patient portal to ask questions or get test results and Zakhari creates a personalized podcast to review the visit and treatment plan.
2. Ask the Five Ws an the H
If you’ve ever written an essay for school, you already know a paper should answer who, what, where, when, why and how. Ask yourself: Who is affected by the problem or has a need to be met? Is it nurses, patients or family members? What are the specifics of the problem or the need? Where are you seeing the problem and when does it occur? And finally, how do you think the need could be met and the problem solved?
3. Give Yourself Permission to Think Creatively
We often knock down our ideas before we even get started. Instead of what-if, we focus on how-to. Don’t think about the specifics of the idea right away. Use your imagination and come-up with your dream innovation no matter how far-fetched it seems. For exercises on unleashing your creativity visit creativethinking.net.
4. Go ‘Halvsies’
Once you’ve dreamed up your idea, implementing it may seem overwhelming. One of the most interesting and effective ways I have used to meet goals is based on concepts from Martha Beck’s book “The Four Day Win.” It may sound like a diet book at first but the process she describes can be used to reach any type of goal. You break a goal down into specific steps and then break those down until they are too simple to fail. So if I want to keep my house more tidy, I would ask myself what I need to do to accomplish that. If I decide I need to dust more regularly, I break that down into dusting once a week. Then break that down into something even easier like just getting out the furniture polish (not using it, just getting it out). Then when I accomplish that for four days, I make the goal a little bigger and do that for four days. You’ll gain confidence and make progress to achieve your goal.
Try using a few of these tips to create new ways to connect with e-patients and see what happens. Maybe you’ll hit on the “next big thing” or, more importantly, help a patient change his or her life by creating more accessible and understandable care.
Jennifer Thew, RN, MSJ
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