Johnson & Johnson Notes on NursingNurses Leading Innovation

Improving Infant Lives Through New Feeding Innovation

Significant healthcare innovations are often developed in response to issues encountered by providers, including nurses. When it became evident there was a way to provide more efficient care to some of the smallest, most fragile patients – babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) – Erin Hoch, RN, BSN, was determined to bring her innovative idea to life. Working at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., Erin’s idea has helped to improve the feeding process for these newborn patients.

Erin had a passion for helping others from an early age, and after graduating nursing school and spending seven-and-a-half years in the pediatric intermediate intensive care unit (ICU), she followed her passion to the NICU. As she worked with the babies, she began to see inefficiencies in the feeding process, which was time-consuming and costly because it required so much equipment and often wasted resources, including the breastmilk.

Using her insights, Erin developed an innovative process that removed the in-between steps during the feeding process by allowing bottles to be converted into a container that provides the food for an infant’s nasogastric (NG) tube. Instead of the lengthy process of using a syringe to take the leftover milk from bottles and hooking up the syringe to a machine that then pumps milk to the NG tube, Erin streamlined the process, making care more efficient for nurses and more comfortable for infants and their families.

We recently spoke with Erin to learn more about the inspiration behind her innovative idea and her advice for aspiring nurse innovators.

J&J: How did your experiences in the NICU lead to the development of your innovative idea for a more efficient feeding process?
Erin: I have often found myself thinking about ways to fix specific problems. I used to enjoy leading teams because it challenged me in a different way than being at the bedside, inspiring questions like, "Where would I put this new patient? Which nurse's strengths would match a certain patient or family situation?" I also have seen creativity at work at the bedside; nurses find ways to get things done.

I initially had an idea to make a wireless monitor for babies; however, I found it was already being worked on. Despite this, I didn't want to give up – I still had thoughts that could help make something better. One day I was in the process of feeding a baby at the bedside when the phone rang, and I was unable to answer. Several thoughts went through my head: "I still need to burp the baby, place the baby down in the crib, draw up the leftover milk, and either gavage (or feed through a tube leading to the throat or stomach) or feed over the pump." Until then, I hadn't thought about the step-by-step process involved in switching from feeding to gavaging – this thought of fixing a cumbersome process started my journey.
J&J: What was the process of bringing your innovation to life?
Erin: I had a few restless nights trying to come up with something that would help improve this nipple/gavage feeding process. When it finally came to me, I worked with one of my NICU managers, our technology transfer team at Loma Linda, and a patent attorney to determine next steps and write up the application. After filing our patent, I started working to find a company that was interested in helping me bring my idea to life and eventually found a company that fit. I’m now working with them to create a prototype.
J&J: Why are nurses uniquely qualified to lead innovation in healthcare, and why is it so important for them to do so?
Erin: It’s crucial that nurses, physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals attempt to make things better in the workplace – however that may be. Who is better to invent something, than the person who is going to use it?
J&J: In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for nurses getting more involved in innovation?
Erin: The biggest hurdle is working to find time for ourselves, so that we can better care for others. Finances can be a significant obstacle, too, but in my case, it hasn’t been yet, since Loma Linda University has very generously helped me make this happen.
J&J: What advice would you give to aspiring nurse innovators who haven’t brought their ideas to life yet?
Erin: Seek out your ideas, then see if those things already exist. Ask yourself, “Will this help someone? Will it help many? Will it help a process?” Make your idea come to life, no matter what obstacles you might face, and don’t give up. It’s especially important to ask questions, and that’s key to being an innovator. Realize that change doesn't happen overnight – it’s a process, and it’s usually for the best!

It’s also essential to look to your mentors. Consider, “What have they done? What are their aspirations?” The one person that has inspired me to go for my dreams is Danilyn Angeles, PhD, one of my professors at Loma Linda University, who helped me see there is always more to be done. There is more research to do, knowledge to gain, babies to help, and people to influence.

To learn more about the ongoing innovative work at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, visit their website here . If you have your own innovative idea that can help change human health, submit it to the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge for a chance to win up to $100,000 in grants and mentoring from JLABS. More information on the challenge, which runs through February 2, 2019, can be found on our website .

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