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Employee Innovation--"Marvelous Invention!"

September 10, 2013

Wash a cut.  Ice an ankle sprain.  After knee replacement surgery, elevate your knee to reduce swelling.  Sound medical advice we can all follow.  But when Kim Jablonski, RN and Joint Program Director at the Orthopedic & Sports Institute makes post-operative calls to recovering patients, the most common complaint is knee swelling.

First question:  “Are you elevating?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Tell me how.”

Here patients will explain to Kim just how they have been elevating, and they will honestly believe they are doing it exactly as they were shown. 

And what it one of the most important post-surgical directions to be remembered will invariably become lost in translation.  

As Kim explains, there is a proper way to elevate.  Lay flat.  Put a pillow, or two, or three, properly positioned underneath the leg.  The important concept is to not allow the leg to bend significantly or it will heal in that position.  

Notice the picture below—the check mark indicates that it’s the proper positioning.  There is a slight bend and the knee is raised above the heart.  Notice the alignment of the pillows—the three are staggered to reduce the bend of the knee and to maximize comfort. 

Here’s where the issues arise at home.  The pillows start to move.  Can’t stop ‘em from shifting.  It’s hard to reposition them, and when you do, you reposition them incorrectly, putting them directly under the knee.  Now it feels good, but the knee is bent—not good.  Then you remove all the pillows.  Then it hurts.  And now you’re just angry.  

After having this scenario repeat itself hundreds of times, Kim decided it was time to take action.  Devising a way for the pillows to stay put was not an easy task.  If it had been, there would have already been something in place.  

So what to do first?  Why not create a foam version of the three pillows combined?  It would be stable and wouldn’t move around.  Did you know that the thickest foam only comes in ten inches?  To make this work, you would need four foam pieces.  One piece of foam is expensive.  Gluing four of them together?  Cost-prohibitive.  Time to rethink.

“There has to be a simple solution to this, right?” Jablonski asked herself.

Fast forward past weeks of thought about different, less-costly materials.  Then the flash of inspiration!  Why not make something that can hold the pillows in place?  

“I need a seamstress!”  Anyone know a seamstress?”

Courtney Vosters heard Jablonski’s’s plea in a meeting.  Vosters, Community Program Director for OSI and a person known for her ability to talk, piped up with, “Yes, my aunt is a very talented seamstress.” Add seamstress Joy Reynebeau to the mix, and, after a few design tweaks, the OSI post-surgical knee pillow case was born.

Before sharing it with Jablonski, Reynebeau decided to test the pillow case once it was sewn to see if the stuffed pillows would shift.  She found willing subjects nearby to complete the trial.  After having her grandchildren jump on the prototype and use it as a slide, the pillows hadn’t moved.  

Patients now use the creation during their recovery at Recovery Inn, OSI’s attached skilled nursing facility.  They are shown how to stuff the pillows in the case as part of their check out, and the functional furnishing is given to the patient when they go home.

Patient reviews?  “Marvelous invention!”  “Love it!”  “I sleep on it!”  

Jablonski is thrilled with the results.  “Patients like it, they use it, they are elevating as directed, and guess what?  Less swelling.”

Lots of thought.  Simple solution.  Voila!

That’s innovation.