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The 3 C’s of Healthcare Innovation: Curiosity, Creativity, and Critical Thinking

By Keith Carlson, via Multibriefs

In the 21st century, myriad buzzwords and concepts have emerged within the healthcare realm, and one certainly stands out from the crowd in terms of its applicability in most any milieu or application, and that’s innovation. Three of the central engines that power innovation can be readily harnessed in the interest of progress and forward movement, and they are curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking — the three C’s of healthcare innovation.

Intrapreneurship and the Three C’s

An acute care nurse is preparing for a bedside procedure that entails strict adherence to the policies, procedures, and best practices that outline the correct execution of the task at hand.

While this nurse has performed this procedure before, on this occasion she notices — perhaps not for the first time — that several of the steps are inefficient, make her task more challenging, and may possibly be exposing the patient to otherwise avoidable risk.

After completing and documenting the procedure per current protocol, a cursory review of the literature reveals that several respected institutions have indeed adopted new evidence-based standards that have yielded as high as a 15% decrease in nosocomial infections for this particular procedure. She prints out several peer-reviewed articles with plans to present them at the next unit-based council meeting.

As a natural intrapreneur, this nurse has applied her curiosity and critical thinking in order to assess a procedure about which she has questions and concerns. An intrapreneur takes “ownership” of their work and refuses to think, “Well, that’s the way it’s always been done.” Rather than proceed without questioning or asking why, she has taken proactive steps to assess the merit of her ideas. As a colleague who will go the extra mile to use her creative capacities for the good of the whole, she is a human asset worthy of nurturing and growing in her ability to lead and innovate.

Science and Art: Innovation and the Three C’s

The science of innovation is relatively simple to visualize and evaluate. A clinician, administrator, researcher, or other colleague uses the power of critical thinking in order to deduce how an issue that needs attention might be improved. An innovative and practical alternative to an accepted procedure might lower costs, boost safety, improve outcomes, or provide other quantifiable or qualifiable benefits.

Scientifically, an innovative idea can be quite pragmatic, readily providing the data that attracts attention and buy-in from key stakeholders like clinicians, managers, accountants, legal counsel, executive leadership, and perhaps the ethics committee.

We can encourage staff to “innovate,” yet what does that truly mean and what are we asking them to do? When we ask for innovative solutions and novel ideas or approaches, we’re asking not just for science, but for art.

The art of innovation is the creativity and curiosity to think outside known parameters and systems by allowing both the right and left sides of the brain to be engaged. But are clinical employees ever given the time to think and explore anything but what the present shift presents? And what could they accomplish if they were allowed such latitude?

Tapping the Fountain

If healthcare institutions want to tap the fountain of innovative thinking that is bubbling just beneath the surface of everyday stressors and tasks attended to by staff, resources can be intelligently set aside for such prudent endeavors. These undertakings may not “make money” per se, but they can lead to significantly positive outcomes if we use measures other than the financial (although cost-savings are always possible, of course).

Multidisciplinary innovation committees can be created and supported in their work. Intraprofessional working groups can also emerge, perhaps as sub-groups of a larger interprofessional body.

Enthusiastic and forward-thinking staff members can be sent on reconnaissance missions to healthcare innovation hubs around the country (e.g., the Ohio State University School of Nursing Innovation Studio or the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Innovation Accelerator). Retreats facilitated by leaders in healthcare innovation can be planned. Time can also be allotted for staff members to write, do their own research, and confer with colleagues about vexing issues in need of attention.

In order to embark on such creative journeys, healthcare institutions must summon the will to act boldly, ignore or push back against those who look askance at unusual and creative efforts, and forge ahead into a future brimming with the potential for intellectually curious innovators to create and explore. Behemoths such as the healthcare system don’t change without radical action; who will have the will to embrace the challenge?

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway, a widely read freelance nurse writer, and motivational/keynote speaker. Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, a popular nursing career podcast. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.


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