Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Can You Please Hold My Hand?

Anyone who has spent time with kids knows it all too well - they never seem to sit still. This is especially true in a hospital, where children are surrounded by strangers, needles, and scary-looking equipment. Trying to complete routine tests can be problematic. That's where an interdisciplinary Creative Inquiry team can help. Led by Dr. Todd Schweisinger from mechanical engineering and Dr. Arlene Johnsen from nursing, the team is developing a pediatric arm stabilizer to be used in the Greenville Children's Hospital. These devices can be utilized on a daily basis when nurses are completing intravenous procedures on young patients between the ages of two and six years old.

This project began two years ago and has evolved into a unique multidisciplinary collaboration among students and faculty. It started when Dr. Schweisinger, who volunteers with the Make-a-Wish Foundation of South Carolina, offered his engineering skills to a fellow volunteer who works at the hospital. Having limited knowledge about pediatric care, he recruited Dr. Johnsen to join the team. The original Creative Inquiry was comprised of students from bioengineering, mechanical engineering, and nursing.

As the project grew more complex, they sought expertise from a marketing student. Dr. Schweisinger commented, "I've been surprised how valuable it's been to have the students collaborate. I think the teams could have done it individually, but there really was a synergy of having the collaboration. We are really all one team. We just have different areas of expertise among the students." The individual skill sets that students bring to the team are vital to attaining the project goals.

The need for a pediatric arm stabilizer extends past simply restraining a child's arm during intravenous procedures. Today, children are required to lie down on their backs when work is being completed, because this is the easiest way to hold down their arms. However, lying horizontally can increase the level of anxiety in the patients. If the children were allowed to sit upright, they would be able to see everything that was taking place around them, thereby reducing their stress. The arm stabilizing device allows the children to remain in a seated position throughout the entire process.

Additionally, this equipment reduces the number of nurses present in the room, since no one will need to hold down the child's arm during the procedure. Children at the hospital are taken out of their bedrooms and into a specific treatment room for intravenous work, which establishes their bed as a safe zone. However, these special rooms are often small and crowded. Removing a nurse from the room will not only lower the stress of the patient, it will also increase hospital efficiency as the nurses are able to focus on other tasks.

Keeping all this in mind, it was necessary for the engineers on the team to specifically design the arm stabilizer for this environment. They created the device on wheels, so nurses can easily maneuver it around the pediatric treatment room. They also designed it to be tall and narrow, so it wouldn't take up extra space in the tight quarters.

Finally, they created a clamp on the side of the device so it could be attached to a child's bed and stabilize itself between the bed and the floor. This way, no matter how much the children squirm, they won't be able to interfere with the medical procedures taking place.

The engineers alone would have difficulties in determining these needed characteristics for the device without the help of the nursing students. Communication between the different departments was vital to the successful production of the pediatric arm stabilizer. After the initial prototype was complete, the nursing students created a questionnaire and evaluation process to determine any design issues that needed to be readjusted. The nursing faculty completed tests on the device to help pinpoint any potential problem areas.

This valuable feedback helped the team rework the original model. In addition to this testing, the nursing students played an important role in communication between the hospital and the engineers. Devin Walford commented, "As the sole bioengineering major on the team, I was able to understand both the engineering and healthcare side of the project and worked as a liaison between the mechanical engineering and nursing students." The nursing students would then communicate the information to the hospital staff.

This Creative Inquiry team is looking forward to a promising future. The intellectual property sub-committee has granted a provisional patent for the device, which provides them with protection over the next year. The Clemson University Research Foundation will move forward with the patent if there is interest from the private industry in licensing the system. The team is now reaching out to medical device manufacturers, specifically ones that are familiar with the FDA approval process, in order to get the machine developed for hospital use. Therefore, the engineers are working on creating a showcase device that can be marketed to these companies.

Dr. Schweisinger notes, "We have the design on paper and we think it will meet all of our criteria." The Greenville Children's Hospital currently has access to both the prototype and the assessment questionnaire results, and is planning to conduct further research on the team's device, as well. Once all of these processes are complete, the team hopes to see their device being used in the hospital system.

Meaghan Cote, a mechanical engineering student on the team, commented, "I am definitely glad that I took part in this Creative Inquiry because it not only gave me experience in my major, but it gave me something to be proud of." For now, the team is working hard to help make their dreams a reality - and help settle the fears of young children in the hospital.