Getting Your RN Invention From The Drawing Board To Market Shelves

July 3rd, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Leonardo Da Vinci isn’t the only inventor I’ve found interesting recently. Back in June, Nurse.com offered up a story about a couple of sisters who had what I think is a brilliant (and superbly simple) idea about making IVs safer and now they are marketing that idea to hospitals around the country.

ColorSafe IV Lines are brilliant (literally) in their various colors of red and orang and green, and blue and they are the result of a brainstorm by nurse Terri Barton-Salinas. "Like many nurses, I used to utilize color masking tape to differentiate the IV lines, but the tape often became snagged on the bed linens,” she told RN.com. “I thought, if only IV lines came in different colors, it would make the process so much easier." And, an idea was born.

Barton-Salinas shared her idea with her sister, also an RN, they contacted a patent attorney and they were off and running. A seemingly simple solution to the tangled, all clear, and multiple IV lines many patients end up attached to and the question of what medication or fluid is running where.

With more than 7, 000 patients injured every year due to medication errors and over 50% of medication errors being made via the intravenous route, it seems an idea like Barton-Salinas’ would have occurred to someone sooner. But that is the nature of invention, it is often something simple and, “simply put,” no one has thought of it yet.

Another Notable Nurse Invention

Another nurse, Jill Drew, invented the “NoNo Sleeve.” The NoNo Sleeve is a warning sleeve to stop a medical procedures being done on an “at risk” arm of patients who have A/V fistulas or have had a mastectomy with lymph node involvement. It is bright red, with a big white stop sign on it and it is a physical reminder that the patient has an at risk limb.

I work in a cancer hospital and a sleeve like the NoNo can save a lot of ink and a lot of worry. Patients wouldn’t feel compelled to draw on themselves and we wouldn’t have to constantly remind each other to stay away from that right or left arm.

I know, for a fact, that nurses are some of the most inventive folks on the planet. Just because we don’t have some piece of equipment to help us provide patient care doesn’t mean we can simply not provide it. You have to find a way to make things work.

When I go on medical mission trips we only have a limited number of any kind of medical supplies. You take what you have, jury-rig it, and make it meet the needs you need filled (i.e. our homemade foley catheter collection device from just last year).

Making Your Idea A Reality

So, what do you do if you have a great idea and think there is use for it for nurses everywhere and maybe even a few dollars to be made? Do you rush out and pay $125 for a patent? Believe it or not—no.

There is actually quite a bit of legwork that any would-be inventor needs to undertake before actually heading to the patent office:

  • Research – Right off the bat you need to remember that people don’t buy ideas (or inventions) they buy products. The very first thing you need to do is make sure no one else out there has come up with a similar idea to your own.

    You need to comb the internet, look in journals and trade magazines, ask people you know in the same industry; make absolutely sure no one has done what you want to do. This is basic market research.

  • How – During your research you will come across people similar to yourself who have made a go of marketing their invention. You need to understand how they did that. You need to understand the tools available to you, how patents, copyrights, and trademarks work, and who would want to buy your product. There are books, courses at the community college or small business organizations, there are online communities you can join—and all will help you form an idea of how to get your idea or invention in to the hands of the people who could use it.
  • Market Research – Find products similar to yours (healthcare related, used in home health, used in the OR or ER or ICU) and note what companies manufacture them and where they are sold.
  • Patent Research – Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website look up patents on items similar to your idea. Read the patents that have been approved to see examples of what your request should include.
  • Prototype – You need a sample of your idea. Draw one, sew one, build one, computer draft one, or hire someone to do this for you. Nothing is a better example of your idea or product than something someone can see, touch, and use.
  • Connect – If it didn’t happen when you were researching you need to seek out other entrepreneurs in your area or online. There are groups that meet and chat groups on line that are there to offer support, share information, suggest resources and offer support to like minded individuals like you.
  • Have a Plan – You need to have a simple business plan on paper, not just in your head. It needs to include basic business fundamentals like how much your idea would cost in materials, in labor (time and money), how it would be sold, who would want to buy it and why someone should want to invest in your idea or product. Don’t take shortcuts. Reference tried and true methods of manufacturing and marketing.

Having the idea may have been the easy part. Making that idea come to fruition will be more of a challenge. You have to be willing to invest not just capital but time and energy into gaining information, making contacts, and learning the basics of business. If this is not how you want to spend your time you will not likely see success for your idea.

And certainly, be wary of late night commercials, your buddy’s, aunt’s, cousin’s ideas about how to build and sell your idea for pennies, and any other fly-by-night shortcut you may come across. Be skeptical.

Resources like Entrepreneur.com and the Small Business Administration can offer all kinds of resources and advice for making your idea a successful reality.

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