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Nurses Are Healthcare’s Frontlines. Now They Are Also Its Inventors.


Main Line Health in suburban Philadelphia has solicited ideas for inventions from nurses. Barbara Wadsworth, the healthcare system’s chief operating officer with 35 years experience as a nurse, has invented a device for cushioning patient falls in the bathroom.

Nurses work in the practical precincts of healthcare, constantly dealing with the day-to-day problems and challenges of meeting patient needs. So who better to ask for ideas and inventions that would improve healthcare in real-world ways?

A couple of years ago, nurses at the Main Line Health, a five-hospital system in suburban Philadelphia, were invited to pitch their ideas. It wasn’t exactly Shark Tank, but the spirit of coming up with something new and imaginative that could fill a need was there.

“I never really thought of ourselves as inventors, myself included,” says Barbara Wadsworth, a chief operating officer of Main Line Health. “And then the more we talked, the more I was like, absolutely. We have really talented, smart nurses, and they do have lots of ideas.”



“I think nurses are very, very good at figuring out how to solve a problem,” Wadsworth continues. “We’ve seen it with the pandemic. We were learning every day how to take care of those patients. We put IV poles in the hallway with very long extension tubing to keep them as safe as possible. And we've never done that before. We were putting people on their bellies. We've never done that before. Rarely did you prone patients for 16 hours.”

Soliciting ideas from nurses is part of Main Line’s ongoing efforts to commercialize ideas and inventions that its staff comes up with. When George Prendergast was appointed president and CEO of the Lankenau Institute of Medical Research (LIMR) in 2004, he coined the term “acapreneurial” as a mashup for the model he wanted to implement — inventions and startup incubation alongside traditional academic goals of research, new knowledge and its validation. According to Main Line Health, LIMR has been granted more than 40 patents, licensed over 10 technologies and products, and spun off or incubated over 25 companies. Two have gone public, Immunome in 2020 and NewLink Genetics in 2012.

Last year, Lankenau Ventures was formed through a partnership comparising LIMR, Early Charm Ventures in Baltimore, and L2C Partners, a technology transfer and commercialization services firm in suburban Philadelphia. Prendergast and Merle Gilmore, founder of L2C Partners, were the ones who broached the idea of involving nurses in generating ideas for new inventions that might be commercialized.

It was George Prendergast, CEO of LIMR, and L2C Partners founder Merle Gilmore who approached Wadsworth two years ago to ask about nurse-inspired inventions. Wadsworth says getting ideas from nurses fits with Main Line Health’s culture of shared decision making. Nurses and others are encouraged to raise issues and propose solutions. The healthcare system, which is anc has organized shared decision-making councils, one of which is devoted to education and research.

Colleen Rogers, a nurse at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital, was cooking up the idea of a device to help nurses changing dressings on limbs.

“You have a limb, potentially, (that) has a wound on it, where you have to apply a dressing, you need someone to hold the limb,” Wadsworth explains. “And typically the patient cannot hold their limb up long enough during the dressing change. And so (Rogers') invention is a device that would hold the patient's limb and not require another person to stay there the entire time. So it improves efficiency.”

And Michelle Gray, a registered nurse who now works as a clinical informatics specialist, devised a software improvement that improves the electronic healthcare record by, for example, carrying over information from a mother’s chart to an infant’s.

Wadsworth, who was chief nursing officer of the healthcare system for nine years, and has 35 years experience as a nurse, started to have her own thought bubbles. She pondered one of the problems that haunts all healthcare facilities — patients falls. And especially patient falls in one particular place.

The bathroom.

“We say to patients, ‘we're going stay with you in the bathroom.’ But think about who you would like to be in the bathroom with you. No one. Nobody wants anyone in the bathroom with them, right? No matter what they're doing,” says Wadsworth.

Staff members typically wait outside, the door ajar, so they can keep an eye on the patient, Wadsworth says. But it is an imperfect compromise of respecting patient privacy and wishes and trying to keep people safe.

“The patient stands up, and they promptly fall. And they either hit their head on the sink or on the floor, they get a head bleed, or they fall and break their arm or their hip. And what's really important is about patients who are 65 years and older, when they fall and break a hip, their mortality goes up by 50% in 12 months,” says Wadsworth.

Wadsworth’s invention is the marriage of a crash pad that sits on the floor and an airbag in a car but instead of sensing a collision, motion sensors would detect whether someone’s position has changed quickly, indicating that they have fallen. Her device won’t prevent falls but would supply cushioning to prevent the worst consequences. Some prototypes are being made and Main Line Health has applied for a patent. Wadsworth’s fall pads will be used experimentally at first to iron out the glitches and collect data.

“I’m very hopeful that this device will change the experience for patients who really just want privacy in the bathroom.And if they fall, they’re not going to get hurt,” says Wadsworth.

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