7 things I learned about innovation in trauma

Authored by:  Angie Chisolm, MBA, BSN, RN, CFRN, TCRN, Managing Partner
As published by: Trauma System News, Trauma Innovation Special Report, June 2023

One thing about my work as a trauma program consultant that I enjoy the most is the chance I get to meet the incredible people who keep our trauma centers running. I never fail to learn new things from these leaders, and I am always inspired by their dedication and creativity. 

That is one reason we launched the Peregrine Award for Trauma Innovation earlier this year. My colleagues and I at Peregrine Health Services wanted to recognize and honor the many trauma teams that are constantly developing fresh ideas that result in better care for injured patients. We also wanted to spotlight the kind of innovations that lead to real improvements in trauma care and program management, but often receive little attention in the wider trauma community. 

Well, the response to the inaugural Peregrine Award was amazing. More than 50 trauma teams from all over the U.S. and the world submitted nominations. From this pool of fantastic submissions, our judges selected 10 semifinalists. And after a tough round of final evaluations, two trauma teams were selected to receive our top award.  

While the two winning initiatives are stand-out examples of innovation in trauma, all the nominations provided inspiring examples of creative problem-solving. So, to show my gratitude to everyone who took part in the Peregrine Award, I want to share seven things I learned from you about innovation in trauma.

1. Take a fresh look at available resources

If you work in one specialty for more than a few years, you can easily develop tunnel vision — and we in trauma are no exception. Many of the nominations submitted for the Peregrine Award show that innovation can come about when you take a fresh look at the available resources. 

For example, the leadership team at Mukono Orthopedic Access Clinic in Mukono, Uganda, identified an untapped resource in their efforts to improve prehospital care for victims of traffic injury — the city’s sizeable fleet of motorcycle taxi drivers. 

And trauma leaders at Franciscan Health Crown Point in Crown Point, Indiana (our Level III-IV-V winner) reached outside the usual sources of money to find a new way to fund their innovative SBIRT team — the vast reservoir of opioid settlement dollars now coming available to U.S. states. 

2. Waste is the mother of invention

Trauma teams (rightly) focus a lot of attention on improving patient care by improving clinical interventions. But we do not always appreciate the fact that reducing waste is an innovative and effective way to improve patient care. 

For a great example, see the creative work done by Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Washington. They saw that the time EMS providers spent waiting in the ED was a huge waste of resources. By working with local EMS agencies to shift some staff from the field to the hospital, they were able to free up ambulance crews to return to the field. The result is better access to prehospital care for injured patients in the community. 

3. Recycle and reuse 

An innovative idea does not have to be completely new. Innovation can simply be taking a good idea from another area of healthcare and applying it to trauma. 

A great illustration of this principle comes from Advocate Aurora Medical Center Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Advocate team took the common cough pillow — a basic element of care for cardiac surgery — and adapted it effectively for the geriatric rib fracture population.

Similarly, trauma leaders at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research in Chandigarh, India, realized that an alternative pain management technique commonly used in arm and hand surgery could have an important role in presurgical pain control for trauma patients. 

4. Provider-focused innovations are care innovations

People who work in trauma maintain a laser focus on the patient. However, one thing the patient needs most is a complete team of well trained and fully engaged providers. Any innovation that supports providers will almost always result in better patient care. 

Trauma program leaders at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tennessee, demonstrated this fact in a powerful way with their innovative nursing job share initiative. This creative staffing model is helping ensure the trauma bay is staffed with experienced nurses and has led to steady improvement in quality of care for injured patients. 

5. Apply new tech in new ways

New technology can be a fertile source of innovation. The trick is to make sure technology supports an effective process, not just creates a new headache. 

One good example: Critical care leaders at HCA Florida Osceola Hospital in Kissimmee, Florida, used a common technology (QR codes) to create an educational resource system that is easy to use for less experienced nurses. 

And injury prevention leaders at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York, provide a great example of using virtual communication to make existing programs even more effective. 

6. Ordinary PI drives extraordinary innovation

This is an innovation lesson that all of us should never stop learning: Basic PI tools, used well, can lead to huge gains in system performance. 

Trauma leaders at Mercy Medical Center Redding and St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in California realized that patient transfers were not as efficient as they needed to be. After creating an action plan and providing education, they set standards and monitored for compliance. The result was a dramatic improvement in transfer times. 

7. Keep it simple, smarty

Finally, innovation does not need to be complicated. 

For proof, look no further than UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado (our Level I-II winner). Their trauma PI dictionary is innovative in its clarity and order — and it’s a great example of how taking a simple approach to a team problem can lead to big improvements in organizational performance. 

Get ready for next year

I am happy to announce that information about the 2024 Peregrine Award for Trauma Innovation will be published later this year. In the meantime, I invite you to start thinking about submitting a nomination. 

What innovative ideas has your team used to improve care for trauma patients? 

Everyone at Peregrine Health Services is looking forward to receiving your submission. And all your colleagues in the trauma community are eager to learn from you and your team.

Read the Trauma Innovation Special Report to learn more about this year’s award-winning submissions.