For a hospital system to be a hub of medical invention runs counter to preconceived notions of its role as a healthcare provider. Then again, the person most responsible for infusing that goal throughout the Main Line Health system set the tone by defying preconceived notions herself.
Two years ago, George Prendergast, president and CEO of Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, part of Main Line Health, and L2C Partners founder Merle Gilmore asked Barbara Wadsworth, COO, Main Line Health executive vice president and chief nursing officer, whether she believed Main Line Health nurses had ideas to improve patient care from daily experience that could become patentable inventions.
She not only said yes but became point person for the effort. Under Wadsworth's leadership, word disseminated systemwide to Main Line Health's 3,000 nurses that the organization wanted their ideas – and would empower those with the best concepts to become inventors. Today, Main Line Health has applied for patents on behalf of nurses – as well as doctors and other team members – for a half dozen devices and software that could help patients in areas ranging from preventing falls in the bathroom to innovations in electronic records. One of the inventors would prove to be Wadsworth herself.
The devices and software are being developed and commercialized by a joint venture called Lankenau Ventures—formed by LIMR, Early Charm Ventures and L2C Partners. Lankenau Ventures' efforts complement LIMR's continuing acapreneurialTM (academic/entrepreneurial) efforts to license biotech developments, drug candidates and blood assays developed by Main Line Health employees and spin off companies to develop them.
"Merle and George said they really felt front-line nurses would have ideas for inventions because they run up against problems needing solutions every day," Wadsworth said. "I thought that was a great idea. So I arranged a session for Merle to meet some of our talented nurses. From there, I had nurse leaders and other nurses including our Nursing Research Council get the word out throughout the system. I'm thrilled with the results."
"Barbara has done everything we've asked of her and more," Prendergast said. "At LIMR, we've been making great strides in becoming known for our acapreneurial approach, but she has helped us take it a new level. Her tremendous work ethic, vision and enthusiasm are key reasons why so many quality inventions are coming out of Main Line Health."
Wadsworth has been with Main Line Health in executive roles for nine years, but she has been a nurse for about 35. "Once a nurse, always a nurse," Wadsworth says. From her experience, she knew Main Line Health's nurses would deliver.
Once given the information on how to proceed, Wadsworth coordinated with Dr. Amy Callahan, a nurse who serves as system director for magnet quality and professional excellence who runs Main Line Health's research fellowship. They decided to introduce Gilmore at Main Line Health's annual research day for nurses, then instructed to those in attendance to get the word about inventions all the way to the bedside nurses.
"Our staff always has good ideas and suggestions," Wadsworth said. "I think they saw this as something different and innovative on its own. Nobody walks around asking nurses for inventions. But we did, and they really responded."
Under Wadsworth's leadership, Main Line Health history was made with the American Nurses Credentialing Center announced the 2019 achievement of becoming one of only 22 health systems in the nation to achieve Magnet® status, recognizing overall excellence. Main Line Health repeated in 2020.
Wadsworth put on her inventor shoes by seeking a patent for a portable airbag/cushion-deployment device with a sensor that would detect if a patient is falling. The compact device could be mounted or stabilized in the bathroom or other high-risk areas for falls.
Colleen Rogers, a nurse with Main Line Health's Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, has come up with a support device that can be used to cradle a patient's limb when changing a dressing rather than having a second nurse or staff member help when the patient is too weak. Many diabetic patients stand to benefit.
Michelle Gray, who was a nurse for 12 years and is now an informatics specialist, came up with a work-saving device of shared electronic medical charts, allowing nurses to enter information once in cases of mother and newborn baby rather than typing out all the data twice.
"I give Barbara a lot of credit," Gray said. "Barbara was an inventor and she really wanted to encourage the staff to spark their ideas. It was great to know that Main Line Health is listening to us."
Wadsworth received her doctorate in Nursing Practice, Health Systems Leadership, from Vanderbilt University in 2014. She also became certified as a Nurse Executive, Advanced; a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing; and a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.