The importance of education and innovation in WOC nursing – Reflections on WOCNext 2023

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For 10 years, I’ve been a critical care nurse in the ER and ICU. My colleague, Nicki Sutton, Head of Insights and Strategy and I recently attended the WOCNext 2023 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada – the first I’d been to. 

Perhaps a wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC) conference would seem an odd choice for a critical care nurse, devoid of ventilators and vasopressin, and in that light, I guess it is. However, while I am still a practicing ICU nurse, I also work for Cambridge Design Partnership, an end-to-end innovation partner with expertise in product development from idea to production.  

So, getting to learn more about the nuanced world of WOC certainly helps inform the clinical perspective I can bring to our clients as we work to help them develop new and novel products to heal patients in a variety of ways. 

Our Insights Research Associate, Erik Andersen, at WOCNext2023

As a non-WOC nurse, I must say: I am hugely impressed by the skill and the art that is WOC nursing. Especially, the art of being able to perform astute assessments on skin tones that vary so greatly and being able to ‘read’ the stoma and peristomal skin to overcome the convexity challenges, much like a golfer ‘reads the green’ to sink the putt.  

I’ve always respected the knowledge that my WOCN colleagues bring to the table, but frankly, it’s easier to apportion patient care responsibilities in a hospital setting. Even though I try to help with wound care and appliance changes when I can, I don’t always get to appreciate the total value-add they bring to their patients. At WOCNext, it was a different story: the sheer breadth and depth of knowledge that the presenters and attendees possessed was astounding.  

Aside from the fact that I still have a lot to learn about wound care, stoma management, and incontinence interventions, there were a number of interesting themes that we were able to pick up on throughout the presentations and discussions:  

We’re losing the WOC numbers game

While it’s true of nursing across the board, many folks highlighted the systemic lack of qualified or certified WOC nurses nationally which makes satisfying the needs of their patient populations exceedingly difficult. This scarcity seems to be much more evident in home care settings where resources are already sparse, and now making both access to patient-appropriate products and WOC nurses a huge struggle. 

We need to extend education to non-WOC nurses 

The second thing that struck me was how much WOC-related knowledge simply doesn’t make it to the bedside nurses, with many people pointing to a lack of education and awareness about wound care best practices and appropriate products held by non-WOC nurses. It seems as though there is an incredible degree of knowledge about these topics that don’t quite reach the broader nursing population, myself very much included. 

There’s an opportunity for innovation

As a healthcare innovator, this shows me there is potential opportunity for manufacturers developing healthcare products, specifically those in the wound care and ostomy space, to understand the stark knowledge gap between WOC and non-WOC nurses, and design systems and products that can help upskill non-WOC nurses to offer better coverage of WOC management.  

By no means am I suggesting a WOC nurse could be replaced, but rather to the contrary: they’re at a numeric disadvantage and already working hard to cover the patients that need them.  

So how can we democratize WOC care so that the lack of available specialists doesn’t have such a negative impact on the patients requiring their care? For instance, maybe there’s room to lean on a technology aid to remove some of the subjectivity that an artful WOC nurse can account for, but that the less specialized nurses among us, like me, can leverage to do a better job with assessments or appliance management. 

That’s the kind of work we can support at CDP, where we have been innovating in the healthcare industry for over 25 years. We have experts across the product development pathway: from patient and clinician research, to design and engineering, to usability testing and validation, all blanketed under our ISO 9001 and 13485 certifications for medical device development and manufacture.  

We aim to improve lives through innovation much like our clinical colleagues, aim to improve lives through healthcare delivery. One such example is the work we’ve done with ostomy product innovation start-up, Ostique. Over four months, we supplied the technical rigor to help them develop a concept for a unique ostomy appliance and build prototypes of the device for user feedback. Today, having successfully brought their product to market, Ostique’s revolutionary pouch covers are available in a range of colors and skin tones to meet patients’ needs. 

Case Study

Ostomy innovation improving usability and visual appeal

The need for improved healthcare and delivery is there – we could see it everywhere at WOCNext 2023 – and we’re here to help you address it. To discuss how we can help your organization take your product to market, chat to the team today

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Erik Andersen

Insights Research Associate