Biomimicry and Task Forces: Partners for Solving Problems in Health Care?

Through millions of years of natural selection, nature has solved some of the most complex problems. By using nature’s model, health care organizations can invent new solutions to problems within the organization. Task forces are temporary teams brought together to solve specific problems. Biomimcry is defined as the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. Bringing together biomimcry and task forces healthcare organizations have a powerful tool to solve the most difficult health care questions. Health care organizations should utilize task forces with knowledge of biomimcry to solve problems.

Examples of Biomimcry

Typically, in the past people look to human design to solve problems. Unfortunately, human ideas are proving to be inefficient, costly, and unsustainable. One example of inefficiency and costly human design is reverse osmosis systems that desalinate water and make it available for human consumption. Desalination has been a hot topic because it is so expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Yet nature can do this elegantly and efficiently every day. Janine Benyus, in her TED talk, explains that cells do this everyday by moving water through hourglass openings and leaving solutes behind. If we can take this recipe or blueprint that nature has designed we can desalinate water without the expense and pollution. A company named Aquaporin is doing this now using forward osmosis. What if as human designers we start looking to nature to solve problems? Perhaps we just need to be more observant of the world around us in order to create a world that is sustainable.

Figure 1. https://inhabitat.com/the-biomimicry-manual-how-does-nature-make-saltwater-drinkable/

Task Forces Defined

Task forces are teams brought together with diverse specialty backgrounds to solve problems within many different forums. Task forces are often thought of within the military or law enforcement context but there are also task forces for social service problems such as hunger or human trafficking. Within health care systems task forces can also be used to solve immediate problems. These are usually temporary, comprised of a few people with specific knowledge that create solutions and then based on whether or not they decision making authority, they make changes or recommend changes to be made to those in power.

Figure 2. https://www.edisonpartners.com/blog/taskforces

Biomimcry in Health Care

Hospital acquired infections are one of the leading causes of death right now in the United States and a problem that hospitals are desperate to solve. By asking the question, “How does nature solve this problem?” hospitals came up with a solution without using antibacterial agents or chemicals. They looked to a shark that repels bacteria through shape and form. The Galapagos shark, even though it is a slow moving shark, does not have bacteria build up on its skin. It does this through the pattern on their skin that repels or prevents bacteria from adhering to it. A company called Sharklet Technologies is now putting this on the surfaces in hospitals to keep bacteria from landing in the hopes of reducing hospital acquired infections.

Figure 3. Sharklet Technologies designed hospital surfaces to repel bacteria by studying the skin of sharks. (Shark photo by Erik Charlton, courtesy of the Biomimicry Institute. Surface image courtesy of Sharklet Technologies Inc.) http://www.umt.edu/urelations/_cms/_archive/vision_archive/Vision%202012/Biomimicry.php

Health Care Organization

Then there is the organization of health care that has many looming problems such as efficiency, patient satisfaction, staff satisfaction, etc. Biomimcry can also come into play here to as we look to biology in a wider perspective, known as ecosystems. The idea to run organizations like a redwood forest is found in Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimcry and Jay Harmon’s book, The Shark’s Paintbrush. Redwood forests have been around for centuries and they do this by adhering to certain principles such as:

  1. Use waste as a resource.
  2. Diversify and cooperate with other species to fully use the habitat.
  3. Gather and use energy efficiently.
  4. Optimize rather than maximize.
  5. Use materials sparingly.
  6. Don’t foul your nest.
  7. Draw up instead of down on resources.
  8. Remain in balance with the biosphere.
  9. Run on information.
  10. Shop locally

What if health care organizations founded themselves on these principles?

Health care organizations can be massive entities that often get bogged down by inefficiencies and high costs. What if those problems were solved by looking toward nature? Superorganisms, such as ant or termite colonies are being studied to understand how they can grow and work without inefficiencies all the while not collapsing from becoming too vast. How do they do it? Evolutionary biologists are looking to understand how nature does it.

Task Forces and Biomimcry as Partners

Health care managers could create small working task forces with diverse backgrounds and give them decision making powers to create problem solving powerhouses. Choosing those people who can think creatively about solving problems, work collaboratively, and have knowledge of the industry would also be advantageous. Nature rewards cooperation and the task forces would have to embrace that idea as well. Putting together a task force that will look at problems through the eyes of nature a health care organization will likely get new and innovative ideas to solve problems not only on a local level but also a systems level.

Evidence

You may be asking where is the evidence to prove this works? Where is the research that biomimcry and task forces can be used effectively to solve problems. I asked myself that same question and came back to the fact that the evidence lies in the 3.8 billion years of evolutionary science. These organisms have figured out how to make life on earth conducive to life. We must ask ourselves the same question. Success equals keeping yourself and your offspring alive. Isn’t that exactly the goal of healthcare? Yet, in our small human existence we are failing to do that. Why not look to something that has done far more research and design then we have? — Nature!

Figure 4. Biomimcry and Task Forces courtesy Monique Scheck-Holmes made in Plectica.

Conclusion

Health care organizations should utilize task forces with knowledge of biomimcry to solve problems. As evidenced by the previous paragraphs, many problems can be solved usually using less resources and money by looking to nature. By thinking outside of the box and using nature rather than human design, health care organizations can explore new ways to solve problems.

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