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How I Became a

Nurse-Inventor

By Terri Street, RN, CRNI

Have you ever been at work and said, "I wish someone would create something that could help fix this problem"? Many nurses have plenty to say about the products they use on the job or about the solutions needed for their patients. But how many of us take the time to develop a solution?

Over the past 14 years I have worked as an RN in Oncology and the ICU and, for the past 10 years, as an IV nurse. Recently I added inventor to that list. Is there an inventor in you?

My inspiration came from experiences throughout my career. It all started for while working in the hospital on an oncology floor right after graduation, where I was exposed to strict protocols and many types of IV therapies. We learned that deviating from aseptic technique or missing a dressing or tubing change put patients at risk for their lives by exposing them to potential infections. I applied the lessons learned throughout my career, but had been frustrated on many occasions by othersí inconsistent compliance, and the lack of a practical way to ensure that administration sets were changed on time. I often wondered if nursesí compliance with tubing changes would improve if they had a product that helped remind them that the tubing needed to be changed at a particular time.

When I started working in the ICU, I was taught to "sweep the room" and quickly decide what my priorities were, what actions were needed to meet them, and then proceed in accomplishing them. When I swept a room where tape or labels were being used (or not used) to label infusion tubings, the only thing I could be certain of at a glance was that there was an IV hanging and that it was either marked or not marked appropriately per the facilityís policy.

As an IV nurse consultant for a long-term care pharmacy chain, there were many occasions when I was questioned about high infusion supply (i.e. tubing) costs and how facility management could reduce this expense. I intuitively knew that if nurses could definitively tell at a glance when an infusion tubing was hung, its hang time could be maximized per CDC Guidelines and/or INS standards. This would eliminate unnecessary tubing changes, thus reducing facilitiesí supply costs.

I finally decided to stop waiting for someone else to come up with a solution to these problems and developed one myself. I wanted a product that would be easy to learn to use, and that would include features to help implement its use. The T-Tag is a tamper-proof tag that is color coded and bar coded by day of the week. It attaches easily to IV, enteral and oxygen tubing. The locking mechanism snaps into place and prevents the tag from being removed. The color coding alerts nurses what as to what day a tubing was put into use. I researched and developed sayings for each day of the week to help nurses remember quickly which color goes with which day e.g. Sea-Green Saturday, Sunny Yellow Sunday. There is space on the tag to write the nurseís initials, what site the tubing was connected to (e.g. PICC, CVC, SQ in response to JCAHOís April 2006 Sentinel Event Alert on "Tubing Misconnections"), and check off what time of day it was put up.

The bar code can be used to track par levels for inventory control. For those facilities that are already using electronic medication administration record technology, it can also be used to track the history of changing the tubing and/or costs. The end result is a product that can streamline inventory, is easy to learn, and provides a process for both tracing tubing to the point of connection and increasing compliance with tubing changes per facility policy.

The process of defining and redefining my idea took quite a while, but it has been worth it. The patent process was not easy; but I spent the time to do the research and now the T-Tag and color coding process are patent pending! I consulted IV nurses, Infection Control Practitioners as well as inventory management personnel to understand what their needs were and how I could incorporate features that could meet those needs.

You can get a product on the market, too. Start with opening your eyes and mind, always have a pen and paper to jot down your ideas, and research what similar products are already on the market. Iím not sure how many patients or nurses my product will eventually help, but my journey to try and make a difference in reducing infection rates and healthcare costs has been awesome.

I decided to market the T-Tag myself based on my experience with sales and marketing. While doing the research to market my product, I found many examples of nurses who have developed their own great ideas and become nurse-entrepreneurs. Whether you market and distribute your own product or sell your product to a medical device distributor should depend on your background and experience, as well as the experience of those you trust. There are also many free resources out there to help get started.

You can view Terri Streetís product at www.trctechnologies.net You can email questions to her at tstreet@trctechnologies.net .

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