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Health system leaders value nurse innovation skills -- just not at the leadership level, study says

Just 31 percent of clinical leaders have a designated nursing leader whose primary responsibility is innovation.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Clinical and business leaders value the innovation and clinical acumen nurses bring to their organizations at most levels -- just not at the leadership level.

Both clinical and business leaders rank skills such as "the interface of clinical innovation and technology" and "design-thinking for process change," as well as "excellent clinical acumen," in the top four most valuable for nurse innovators in their organizations by 2025, according to Unleashing Nurse-Led Innovation, a study by The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

But most have not elevated nurses to the leadership levels needed to fully transform care. Just 31 percent of clinical leaders have a designated nursing leader whose primary responsibility is innovation, and less than half (46 percent) of business leaders say their C-suite includes someone with a nursing background.

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By 2025, however, both sides of the industry signal that they're taking steps to fully unleash nurse innovators at the leadership level.

More than three-fourths (81 percent) of clinical leaders say investing in placing nurses as decision-makers on all strategic planning teams will be very important for health organizations. More than half (57 percent) of business leaders, meanwhile, say advanced leadership is a skill they'll view as very important to nurse innovators within their organization.

With the health system becoming ever-more consumer-driven, stakeholders' ability to thrive depends largely on nurses claiming leadership positions, the authors said. To improve outcomes and lower costs, health systems would do well to recognize nurses' value in the boardroom, not just in the community.

Today's most perplexing health issues -- caring for a growing aging population, chronic care management and addressing mental health issues like addiction -- necessitate that shift. In fact, these critical areas are where clinical and business leaders agree that nurses have the most opportunity to transform and improve care by 2025, the study revealed.


Lack of leadership roles isn't the only frustration for nurses. In a November study, more than 80 percent of nurses rated the clinical work environments in their hospitals as less than excellent. Close to 30 percent of nurses gave their hospital an unfavorable grade on infection prevention, and more than 30 percent scored in the high burnout range on standardized tests.

Between 2005 and 2016, only 21 percent of hospitals substantially improved their clinical work environments; 71 percent made no improvements and 7 percent experienced deteriorating work environments.

Hospitals that improved their work environments saw their patient safety indicators improve, with favorable nurse and patient appraisals of patient safety increasing by 11-15 percent.


"Nurses are already leading sweeping, research-driven innovations at larger, systemic levels within clinical and business organizations. They're just having to navigate around certain roadblocks to do it," said Dr. Karen Meador, managing director and senior physician executive in The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation. "Roadblocks need to be removed, and systems must embrace nurses as leaders in innovation. Unleashing nurse innovators is a care imperative and a business imperative."

Twitter: @JELagasse

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