Using Biomimicry and Task Forces to Solve Problems Within A Healthcare Organization

Frank mac
Frank mac
Dec 9, 2018 · 5 min read

Healthcare organizations are regularly faced with issues regarding patient care or organizational changes and many times an organization will create a task force to find solutions in which they willtypically seek to create a new solution to the issue when the best solution may be one that already exists and been created over thousands of years. Biomimicry or Biomimetics, is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. Biomimicry is already used in countless applications to solve problems where creating a new answer would not be as effective.

What is Biomimicry?

Evolution In Nature

Like nature, healthcare is constantly evolving and seeking new and better ways to treat patients to improve healthcare outcomes and it is important to remember that we have so much to learn from the thousands and even millions of years of evolution that nature has used to create solutions to its own problems. At some point in it’s history, the mosquito needed to evolve to be able to pierce the skin to draw blood for food while being virtually undetected so that it would not be killed by the host it was feeding on so it developed a complex needle system that has 6 separate needles that have different functions allowing it to pierce the skin while preventing the host from knowing it is being fed upon.

A Mosquito’s Needle

Examples of Biomimicry In Healthcare

The modern hypodermic needle has largely remained the same since its first use during the mid 1800’s however it is regarded by most as a painful way to introduce medicine into the body or to draw blood so when researchers at Kansai University in Japan began to look into ways to modernize and improve the needle they used the mosquito as a model. They created a hypodermic needle in 2011 that patients claim are virtually painless. This is important as approximately 10% of Americans suffer from trypanophobia (fear of needles) which may prevent them from receiving vaccines, blood tests or other treatment such as dental care.

Once the new needles were proven effective another group within the healthcare system realized that it could be implemented to provide safer and more effective treatment. Neurosurgeons use a neurosurgical probe to remove brain tissue and according to a report titled, Biomimetic Microtexturing for Neurosurgical Probe Surfaces to Influence Tribological Characteristics During Tissue Penetration, neurosurgeons utilized the same design used in the outer sheath of the mosquito’s needle, created a more effective and safer technique to remove brain tissue reducing the risk of brain damage during the surgery.

Left is the serrated sheath of the Mosquito needle and right is the serrated neurosurgical probe.

Using Biomimicry and Task Forces to Solve a Current Healthcare Problem

Task forces are defined as a unit or formation established to work on a single defined task or activity and they are frequently used in healthcare organizations as a way to address the needs of the organization or the patients. Many times they are used to improve patient care or the delivery of care but they can also be used to address any issues that the organization itself is facing such as budget or staffing issues. As a task force is established it is important that the organization consider if there are any similar situations in nature that that could provide them with a template on how to address the need in a sustainable and already existing strategy.

On August 1st, 2018 the second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history was declared In the Democratic Republic of Congo and it has now spread to second largest city in country. The likelihood of significant losses of life from the current outbreak is likely so it is imperative that we find a form of treatment for the disease both to prevent the illness as well as to treat those currently infected. From 2014 to 2016 more than 11,000 people died from an Ebola outbreak which prompted the creation of a task force of multidisciplinary researchers including doctors, epidemiologists, viruses, veterinary surgeons and laboratory technicians to begin to look at the survivors who had been infected to see if and how they have developed an immunity to the disease and they found that they had indeed developed an antibody that would kill the disease. According to the French Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, “ In vitro tests subsequently brought evidence of a significant rise in the number of T8 lymphocytes (white blood cells which destroy infected cells) producing cytokine IFN-g, a substance involved in the immune system.” Using biomimicry scientists are now looking for ways to replicate this immunity to provide a vaccine to those who are in danger of contracting the disease including healthcare workers who are working to treat the infected.

In the case of Ebola, the multidisciplinary task force was paramount to finding the immunological response that biomimicry may use to create the vaccine that will help prevent countless deaths from future Ebola outbreaks.

Left: A healthcare worker carrying a child in a facility created to treat patients infected with Ebola. Right: The Ebola Virus

Confirming the Answer to the Problem

When a task force is established and believes it has a solution to the problem, they must be sure that this is the correct approach because there is a possibility that an incorrect approach can be detrimental to both the patient and the organization. So how can a task force confirm it has the answer? There are several models of reasoning that have demonstrated success in confirming the answer. One model that has shown to be effective is the Toulmin Model. Created by Stephen Toulmin in his 1958 book The Uses of Argument, it establishes a framework through a flow chart of claims, facts, warrants, backing, rebuttals, and qualifiers which allow you to establish your final claim. Using the Toulmin model can prevent the application of a bad response to the problem through the support of facts, data and rebuttals.

Toulmin Model

Conclusion

In life we frequently seek to invent new ways to address existing problems which isn’t always the most effective approach, especially when we have a 3.8 billion year old wealth of experience that earth has provided us with. As we continue to encounter issues within the healthcare system and medicine it is important that we mandate that the task forces we establish are looking into ways that we can solve the problems we face using biomimicry.

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