This article was originally published by the Burlington Free Press on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in the “Innovate” section of the paper. 

nurse_stonerWhen you think about innovation in health care, do you think of nursing first? Probably not. It’s a safe bet that new technologies, medicines or surgical procedures are what come to mind. But the truth is nursing is an important source of innovation as well. This is especially true at the UVM Medical Center, where we have the benefit of collaborating with colleagues from the UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the College of Medicine to understand the impact of new research and conduct research of our own.

Most of the time innovation in nursing involves improving the way we do something. One example is a change in transferring the care of a patient from one nurse to another. Historically, these “handoffs” happened in a conference room, but we’re now doing them at the bedside so we can listen to family members and others who might have additional information to share as we review highlights of the past shift, recent test results and plans for the upcoming shift. This new process has shown to improve communication, patient safety, and quality of care.

Another example of recent innovation is the use of the Clinical Simulation Laboratory – jointly run by the UVM Medical Center and the colleges of Nursing and Medicine – to educate nursing students. The “Sim Lab” is equipped with lifelike, high-tech manikins that offer a range of invaluable learning opportunities. Initially, we used the Sim Lab to give students hands-on experience with important technical skills like inserting central line catheters – tubes that are placed into large veins to deliver medications and other substances over long periods of time. Partly as a result of this training, bloodstream infections caused by central lines have been virtually eliminated in our Intensive Care Units over the past 2 to 3 years – a major accomplishment.

More recently we’re using it to enhance communication skills among health care providers, patients and families. In the Sim Lab, we can practice inter-professional skills in realistic scenarios such as a medical emergency, without having to wait for the emergency to occur. The Sim Lab is also a supportive learning environment where we can get – and give – feedback.  This improves understanding of each other’s roles and enhances our team skills, all of which ultimately benefits patients

In terms of technology at the bedside, many advances have contributed to patient safety – a fundamental focus of our work. One example is barcode medication administration which electronically verifies the right medication is being administered to the right patient at the right time by the right route and at the right dose – we call these the “five rights”. This closed-loop system has significantly improved medication safety for our patients.

at the UVM Medical Center, nurses and other providers continually ask challenging questions about current practices. Is there a better, safer, more efficient way to do this? Are we certain what we’re doing is grounded in strong evidence? This constant pursuit of improving patient care has led to these and other innovations in nursing, and we plan to keep them coming.

Anne Ireland MSN, RN, is director of Clinical Practice and Innovation at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Sue Murdock, RN, is director of Nursing Education and Research at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

Read more about the Clinical Simulation Laboratory in this blog post by Dr. Ted James, director. 

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