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Innovation at bedside improving patient quality of life

 Innovation at bedside improving patient quality of life



A frontline innovation has led to one elderly lady regaining her independence and being able to return to live in her own home.

St John’s Hospital, Limerick hosts a research unit from the University of Limerick known as the Rapid Innovation Unit (RIU). The RIU is researching the application of 3D printing at the point of care to drive innovation on the frontline and improve patient quality of life.

The team has a dedicated lab within the hospital that houses a suite of state-of-the-art 3D printers and technology. With experienced design researchers on the ground, challenges at the bedside can be addressed in only hours by through collaboration with clinical staff.

The Rapid Innovation Unit Project Team includes Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, Technical Lead; Dr Kevin J O’Sullivan, Research Lead; Siobhán Quinlan, Clinical Lead; and Prof Leonard O’Sullivan, Director.

Recently the MDT team in the Clinical Recovery & Support Unit (CRSU) and RIU worked together to deliver a solution for a wonderful patient in St John’s. Maureen is a 68-year-old lady who was admitted to the CRSU in November 2021. She required emergency bowel surgery in September 2021, spending 30 days in intensive care and has advanced rheumatoid arthritis.

While Maureen was recovering well in the CRSU, it was identified that due to her rheumatoid arthritis, she was having difficulty gripping utensils to feed herself. As she was unable to feed herself independently it would not be possible to discharge her home to live independently. Both regular cutlery and the special arthritic cutlery were unsuitable for Maureen to use, as she described herself, “This big chunky stuff bought online is too awkward and I knew it wouldn’t work for me.”


Maureen did not want to be depending on people to feed her and wanted some ‘small bit of independence, this makes me feel human’. Maureen was determined to be discharged home where she could live independently again. The Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM) contacted RIU to see if they could help. Maureen informed the RIU team that all she wanted to be able to do was ‘butter a cut of bread’.

After meeting with Maureen, the RIU team were able to design and print a bespoke holder to adapt cutlery to fit her hands in a matter of hours. The holder was shaped to fit the contours of her hand, with flattened sides that suited Maureen’s grip. Three versions were created to suit a knife, fork, and spoon, and the result enabled Maureen to feed herself.

Maureen also had considerable difficulty in managing her stoma bag due to her lack of dexterity. This was another barrier to her living independently and there was a huge effort by the MDT to enable her to realise this. A member of the medical team contacted RIU to identify if some intervention would assist her to manage the stoma bag. Using pouch stoma bags, the RIU team printed an insert to slide into the pouch which a handle on it with the same style of enhanced grip. This gave Maureen the ability to manipulate the bag into the correct position, giving her more control in removing the adhesive backing, and allowing her to change the bag herself. Maureen was delighted with the result and the independence she regained. “This handle has saved my life as I was fearful about changing the bag, it was easy once it was customised for me,” she said.

The physiotherapist worked with the RIU team to modify Maureen’s walking stick. The team reduced the curve on the handle, shortened the length, and printed a larger grip to maximise Maureen’s control.

“I couldn’t manage the curve in the walking stick, so again the RIU customised if for me and now I can grip it. This makes a huge difference holding onto the stick without the stick falling out of my hand and gives me more confidence,” she said.

Prior to discharge a member of the RIU team interviewed Maureen about her pending discharge and the three design interventions. Maureen highlighted her delight and her overall goal was to continue to live independently. She had secured independent living in sheltered housing and met the criteria to live independently with oversight from a care team.

Maureen has since been in touch with the RIU team and informed them that she is managing very well with her customised equipment and is now dreaming of ‘a robot to do everything’.