What innovations can nurses create when their ideas are hatched in an interprofessional atmosphere? The University of Pennsylvania’s Health Innovation Technology Incubator proves the results can be forward-looking and transformative for healthcare.
Nancy P. Hanrahan, PhD, RN, CS, FAAN, was the associate professor and faculty member of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the Penn School of Nursing when she devised the Health Technology Lab, inspiring nurses to develop ideas combining nursing and technology. She serves as dean and professor for the School of Nursing and associate dean of Bouve College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston,
Through the incubator, clinical nurses and those primarily involved in research have collaborated and learned from members of UPenn’s computer science, engineering, business and medical departments.
The fruit of their combined skills and ideas include a PTSD toolkit for RNs, software tools to improve outcomes after hospital discharge, a video game to teach pediatric patients with asthma better control of their condition and multiple mobile apps.
Nurses and others whose mobile apps are in testing or continued development stages found their participation in the incubator creatively stimulating and professionally productive. Here are their stories:
Before entering nursing, Matthew Lee, BSN, BA, RN, used his degree in interactive multimedia to develop digital games. His incubator project is a mobile app, Journey to the West, targeted toward international students.
“When I started in the incubator program, I connected with a project that was in an earlier iteration; they were looking for someone with design experience,” Lee said. “I tweaked it and took it from a standard self-help app to something focused toward international college students, using game-based design to address common stressors.”
Lee worked with individuals from computer science, engineering and nursing as he provided both the design element and the nursing component, making sure the information was correct from a healthcare point of view.
“We had computer science people building out the basic prototypes and making sure the bugs were fixed, business students working on the model and specialists in mental health working on that aspect.”
The collaboration had its challenges. In academia and industry, people work with different meanings in their language, Lee said. “For example, what does ‘immediately’ mean? For academia, it can be a few days, but in industry, it can mean yesterday.”
Lee said the team realized communication is key, including assuring proper documentation so all participants understand decisions and rationale.
“Most of all,” Lee advised nurse collaborators, “keep an open mind and make sure your perspective is patient centered. It’s easy to get sidetracked by personal goals and then not meet the goals of the therapeutic process.”
While not a nurse, Akinyemi Bajulaiye, BA, worked for two years in the nursing school’s Laboratory of Innovative and Translational Research.
In the incubator, he networked with nurses in his development of a mental health and wellness platform, as well as with software students from UPenn’s engineering school who helped him develop a mobile app.
The collaboration spawned greater ideas. The idea evolved into more than a community-building network, he said; it became actionable with the concept of peer-to-peer connection.
The interprofessional aspect of the project offered Bajulaiye opportunities he couldn’t have anticipated; he’s now working on another early stage start-up with an interdisciplinary group. “The incubator program has had a real significant impact. It gave me the opportunity to tap into spaces I hadn’t explored before.”
A breast-feeding mobile app for patients and another for providers on early pregnancy loss were outcomes of the incubator for Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos, MSN, CRNP, WHNP-BC, IBCLC, associate director of the women’s health nurse practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her experiences as a lactation consultant and a mother led to her concept of the breast-feeding app, which she developed with a former student and a colleague. “We worked on the app from the nursing point of view, then went to computer science and design students to code and design it.”
She said the app takes the perspective of the patient, giving a woman decision-making power about breast-feeding. “Most women make a decision about breast-feeding while pregnant; we want to target that population, before they have their baby.”
Assumptions were dismantled during her incubator experience. “I had preconceived ideas of what a computer science student would be like; those were changed,” Nagtalon-Ramos said. “The students made the app very pretty — they were thoughtful and very purposeful of the design and how it’s presented.” She said collaboration went both ways: “We learned from them, and they learned from us.”
“It’s’ time for us to reach out of our silos and ways of thinking,” she said. “There are many ways to approach a problem; the more brains that are involved really helps. I may not be experienced in design or coding, but I have confidence in what I know, in the clinical realm, so reaching out to tech people helps me leverage both our talents and knowledge to have a really solid product, something that will help patients.”