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Finding opportunity


Every project is a journey. This one started in Basingstoke, England, a small city 50 miles southwest of London in a hospital run by the National Health Service. We were there to think about IV poles, an ordinary piece of healthcare furniture.

“Every hospital we visited has an underground economy of favors owed and returned and borrowed IV poles are a form of currency.”

Our first user interview set the tone: "They don't matter and I don't care about them." We were certain things would look up. "IV poles? I can never find one when I want one." As the hours passed, we spoke with nurses, biomedical technicians, physicians and nurse trainers. Few people had thought much about IV poles and even fewer seemed to care about them. By lunch, we started to see IV poles as more of a nuisance than an opportunity.

In conversation after conversation, nurses talked about how frustrating it is to search for IV poles. We timed them. On average, each search took fifteen minutes. How do you get the poles you need? Jackie Campbell, a Nurse Specialist, told us: "We beg, borrow and steal when we have to." Every hospital we visited has an underground economy of favors owed and returned and borrowed IV poles are a form of currency.

Although the nurses were adamant about hand washing, we watched them roll IV poles from one ward to the next with no cleaning protocol. We saw IV poles as a source of cross-ward infections.

We went to an outpatient infusion clinic and watched patients rest and receive therapy. Could we give each patient a place for a cup of tea and a novel? Could we give each person a greater sense of control over his or her environment? Could IV poles become personal bistro tables?

We refined the base of the pole to minimize surface details for faster, more effective cleaning. We designed a distinctive ring handle to make transport easy and comfortable. We created an asymmetrical base to give every pump system a logical front and back. We transformed drooping hangers for IV bags into a distinctive, easy to reach Y-leaf. To break down social isolation, we added a white board so family and friends could exchange greetings and messages.

The first units went to Basingstoke for evaluation. The poles were tested. People kept taking them out of the test area to use them. Nurses loved them. From there, the poles moved to Switzerland for more testing. The results were the same. Our research won an IDSA award. CareFusion won more business.

Did the patients notice anything? How could they? Increased nurse time, fewer infections and lower maintenance costs are hard to see. This was one of those times when good design was more about making a difference than making a splash.

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