I was home for a long weekend visiting my mom, an acute care nurse who taught first year nursing students. Talking in the kitchen one afternoon, she started telling me her idea for a new healthcare product.
“One thing that has always bothered me is that patients can’t clean their hands on their own. Nurses never have enough time to help them and patients don’t think to ask for help. Patients use the bedpan at night, fall asleep and then when breakfast is delivered in the morning with their medications they don’t clean their hands before eating and putting pills in their mouth.”
“Really? That’s horrible,” I replied. Truthfully, I have always loved the theory of medicine but don’t have the stomach for all of the things healthcare workers see and treat on a daily basis. With little knowledge of infection control and the risks involved, I asked my mom a few questions about why this bothered her so much. What she described was scary, borderline infuriating.Imagine a loved one going into the hospital for a standard treatment but then acquiring an infection that ends up being more deadly than the original reason for entering the hospital. It was a cruel reality of healthcare.
Fast forward a few months and a lot of Google searches and I started to realize there really wasn’t anything out there to help patients perform basic hand hygiene and care. It seemed like there was a lot of policing of healthcare workers’ hand hygiene but nothing that would actually make cleaning patients’ hands easier.
I decided to try and help bring my mother’s idea to life. We started by looking at all the little things that could be done to make a patient more comfortable while in a hospital bed. We gave our product the name “Fitsi” – a variation of my mom’s childhood nickname “Fitzy” – to signify health, fitness and overall wellness and began talking to nurses, patients, and everyone else we could about the concept.
These conversations led to workshops in the nursing school where my mom taught. We asked volunteer students to play the role of a “tough” patient. The scenarios they acted out included a patient who refused to take her glasses off at night for fear of losing them. Or a patient who lost his cell phone in the hospital bed sheets and missed an important call from a loved one. Or a patient with painfully chapped lips (a common side effect from medications) but was too shy to say anything for fear of bothering the nurses.
On the flip side, when we talked with nurses about their needs we heard time and time again how they wanted more quality time with patients. Things like looking for a patient’s misplaced glasses in the hospital bed sheets were taking up precious time that nurses would rather spend with patients. We saw a real opportunity to create a product that helped patients and saved nurses time.
We found a product designer and began developing prototypes. We all had full time jobs and lived in different cities. Fitsi weekly calls were on Sundays. Many times they had to be cancelled or delayed but we kept pushing forward. Then, over a year later we had our first 3D printed prototypes. This was the turning point for us. Having something tangible made what we had been working on seem real. We went from a “cool idea” to something people wanted to buy.
This month, we kicked off production for the first 25,000 units and hope to have Fitsi on patient beds by the summer. It is crazy to see your “side project” become your full time job. The risks are real and scary. But also exciting because we know this is something patients really need.
The idea for Fitsi is simply to give patients more. We not only made it easy for patients to clean their hands but also gave them a place to store their phones, glasses and access to comfort items like lip balm and moisturizer. We designed the product to help patients feel more independent but also save nurses time.
The opportunities for improving the patient experience are vast. Just ask any doctor or nurse and he/she will tell you several improvements that could be made. This experience has taught me that some of the best ideas for new healthcare products come from empowering those on the frontlines. It is a lot of work but I firmly believe that better design means better care and I am excited to be making a real impact in patients lives. The opportunities are endless. Fitsi Health is just getting started.