Nick Webb

When you think of cutting-edge innovators, who comes to mind?

Probably a scientist in a lab, working on a new invention.

Or a software engineer dreaming up a cool new app.

True enough. But many people may be surprised to know that among the leading innovators of today are America’s registered nurses.

They are the new superheroes of innovation.

While this may be news to people outside the healthcare industry, it’s no secret to the 2.9 million RNs who work on the front lines of American healthcare. Their new ideas play a critical role in advancing the practice of healthcare at every level.

The American Nurses Association recognizes the value of nurse-driven innovation, and says: “ANA believes that nurse-focused innovation is vital in addressing the challenges that the health care system faces. By harnessing the creative thinking power of nurses and the expertise learned from frontline experience, we can positively impact nurses and patient outcomes.”

Capturing and Leveraging New Ideas

In their daily interactions with patients and the healthcare system, RNs see first hand what works and what doesn’t. In response, they come up with their own solutions. This incubation of innovation never stops—it’s going twenty-four hours a day, seven days week.

The problem isn’t a shortage of new ideas; it’s capturing these new ideas and leveraging them to benefit patients.

Recently I had the honor to address a meeting of over 1,000 registered nurses. During my presentation, I asked the members of the audience to raise their hands if they ever saw a procedure or system that could be improved. To my astonishment, nearly every person in the audience raised their hand. Clearly, they had a lot of ideas about how to improve healthcare!

Then I asked their workplace offered a method for submitting and evaluating new ideas—what’s called an innovation pipeline.

Very few of the RNs raised their hands.

This demonstrated that America’s healthcare organizations—hospitals and other care providers—would be well advised to more aggressively tap into this tremendous wealth of innovative ideas.

Fewer Consultants, More Listening

The leaders of many organizations, including many healthcare providers, believe that capturing innovation means hiring a consultant, who then devises a complicated and expensive innovation “program.” These cumbersome solutions invariably deliver poor results before fading away as expensive write-offs.

The real solution is much simpler.

With millions of RNs working on the front lines of patient care and having ideas about how to improve service, it’s clear the number one task of any administrator must be to listen. Open the lines of communication, solicit new ideas, have conversations, do simple cost-benefit analyses, and leverage the power of America’s innovation superheroes.

Why pay for expensive consultants and studies when an army of hands-on practitioners are ready and willing to innovate and bring more value to the healthcare marketplace?

Encouragement From the American Academy of Nursing

The American Academy of Nursing (AAN) has developed The Edge Runner initiative, a robust program of proactive encouragement and recognition of nurse innovators. These are the RNs who, despite the pervasive indifference to new ideas from the front lines, have spearheaded significant innovations that in many cases have saved lives.

The Edge Runner initiative recognizes nurse-designed models of care and interventions that improve healthcare quality, reduce cost, and enhance consumer satisfaction.

In addition, the AAN has launched the Raise the Voice campaign to showcase how nurses are leading the way in transforming the health care system. This campaign provides a platform to inform policymakers, the media, health providers, business leaders, and consumers about nurse-driven solutions for an ailing health care system and the victories that are being won every day.

In the words of the AAN, “We all have a stake in transforming America’s fragmented, expensive, and often inaccessible health care system. Solutions generated by nurses can save the health care system money, reduce adverse events, improve patient outcomes, and promote health. It is time for a new system; current and future generations of patients are depending upon a successful transformation.”

America’s registered nurses are the new superheroes of innovation—and they deserve our support!