The process of creative problem-solving

July 21, 2021

In this issue, the editors at Medical Laboratory Observer celebrate the spirit of creative problem-solving with profiles of MLO’s 2021 Lab Innovators Worth Watching.

This is a recognition program we launched in 2020 to encourage laboratorians to nominate co-workers who had developed innovative solutions. The program is open to nominations of lab employees at the individual, group or department level. It is also an opportunity for lab managers to garner public recognition for the successes of their employees.

At MLO, we wanted to find out how individuals and teams defined a problem, developed an innovative solution and measured success. We profile their stories in this issue. For example, the lab at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada built from scratch a dedicated PCR COVID-19 lab, while the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory at Yale-New Haven Hospital developed automated methods to solve common interference problems affecting lab tests in chemistry.

This year’s Lab Innovators Worth Watching involved not only teams but also a single employee. A lab employee at UnityPoint Health built custom acrylic trays, allowing employees to remove petri dishes from incubators much more easily than was possible before.

In a 2019 article, Gallup writes about how to inspire innovation among employees. In a survey, the organization found that only about one-fifth of employees surveyed in the United States believed they work at an organization “where people can try, fail and learn from their mistakes.” That kind of environment is essential to fostering innovation, Gallup says. It also encourages employees to speak up when they see potentially harmful errors, which is essential in a clinically focused business like a laboratory.

To nurture a culture of innovation, Gallup says managers should embrace a trial-and-error approach to improving processes and products and “create a constructive, non-punitive method for fixing problems.”

In an online toolkit on problem-solving and escalation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) encourages problem-solving at all levels of an organization because it helps lead to safer patient care.

The agency also says it is equally important to train employees on when to inform managers about an issue. The decision on whether to escalate an issue depends on the type of solution required to solve a problem, the agency says. AHRQ defines two types of solutions to problems: Type 1 solutions, which solve a problem immediately and often involve only frontline employees and supervisors, and Type 2 solutions, which prevent the problem from recurring in the future. Type 2 problems often are those that are symptomatic of a larger issue and require escalation to management, the agency explains.

Clearly, the managers involved in this year’s Lab Innovators Worth Watching have tapped into their employees’ enthusiasm and creativity. We hope their experiences will inspire you to develop innovative solutions to problems in your lab. We also hope you will nominate your teams for MLO’s Lab Innovators Worth Watching in 2022.

I welcome your comments, questions, and opinions – please send them to me at [email protected].