Simple Innovations Make Huge Impacts

Simple Innovations Make Huge Impacts

5:01pm Mar 06, 2015
Wake Forest Innovations

SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.

Innovation is the introduction of new ideas, devices, or methods that will simplify and improve our lives. An obvious example is the smartphone. At any moment I can listen to music and make a citizen science entry, right after I waste an hour on social media. I can even make phone calls, but I prefer to text. But not all innovations are so complex, 

in fact many are so simple you don’t even recognize them as innovations. Take the fork or the ink pen for example. The medical community has always been a source of innovation, but how have the simplest of ideas made the biggest impacts?

The stethoscope was invented in 1826 and you still see it around every physician’s neck. That innovation, today, is the standard of care for listening to your heart, listening to your lungs. Its the same with the hypodermic needle. It came into play in the late 1800s, and we are still in use of those today.

That’s Ken Russell, director of Wake Forest Innovations’ Medical Device Program. He and his colleagues are improving the way the medical community saves lives. For example, the hypodermic needle hasn’t changed much in 200 years. But the traditional model is not so perfect for delivering medication from inside someone’s organs.

You’re watching the needle, and you’re steering it, but at the same time you have a syringe hooked to it down at your hand level, which you use to inject the medicine. In this case, one of our urologists said “Ken, I can’t see those little marks, and if I look down I have to take my eyes off of what I’m doing with the patient. Can you come up with something that would move incrementally, so I can accurately dose in equal measure without having to look at it. So we’ve developed with him an incremental syringe. The only thing we’ve changed is the plunger. You get a tactile stop and an audible click as you move to each increment.

During surgery, suture needles which are not in immediate use are a sticking hazard and need to be removed. The Wake Forest chief of orthopedic surgery, Dr. Andrew Koman, saw this as a tremendous waste of time and resources, especially when performing hand surgery.

He invented a little clamshell device that clamps over the suture leader, capturing the needle so you won’t get stuck, and you can leave multiple needles in place while you’re balancing out the ligaments, and go from one to the other. It saves time in the OR, it prevents an a needlestick.

And here’s another simple solution to a common medical inconvenience.

A lot of the nasal cannulas that you’re used to seeing are these two little prongs that stick in someone’s nose, with the two tubes that lap around the ears, most of those had been retrofitted. So you have two prongs delivering oxygen, and two prongs below it measuring the CO2. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if air is coming out one port and CO2 is going in the other and they’re side by side, you’re not getting a very accurate measurement. So what one of our doctors has done, Patrick Gates, he came up with a way of making two compartments in one tube. It goes inside the nasal cavity on one side only and it delivers oxygen at about 5 centimeters inside the nose. It measures carbon dioxide at the exit so now you separate oxygen and the carbon dioxide; you get a much more accurate measure. The oxygen is delivered deeper in the nose.

Sometimes a solution seems like a no-brainer, but it’s usually someone who works daily with a problem who will offer the best solution, like this one from Michelle Kelly, a Nurse Anesthetist.

You’ve all seen these rubber green balloons. People are manually pushing them to ventilate a patient. Most of those are hooked up in the tracheal tube. Sometimes they have to manually press these balloons, and the force can overcome the attachment force, so the balloon falls off. And so now the patient’s not breathing, they’re scrambling to get another balloon. Michelle looked at it and says “why don’t we just simply put a fastener on these things and fix it. In the event that they have to manually oxygenate somebody with the bag, it won’t pop off. Having the support of the management at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center allows us to work with our physicians and staff who are dealing with patients day in and day out. They are solving the problems that improve patients' lives. And it really helps them to accomplish their mission to care for and to cure patients. Most university hospitals don’t have this capability, to take physicians’ and staffs’ ideas and improve patients’ daily lives.

This Time Round, the theme music for SciWorks Radio, appears as a generous contribution by the band Storyman and courtesy of 

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