Innovation: 4 projects with the potential to change how MSF works for the better

It's not always the big things...

Innovation can mean the big things. It can be a mobile operating theatre, or a pre-fabricated hospital that fits together in just a few weeks. But sometimes it takes changes in the detail of how we do things to make a massive difference for our patients. Medical innovation adviser Pete Masters blogs about four projects that are aiming to do just that...
There are many ways in which MSF innovates. Every day, in MSF projects across the world, our teams are working on ways to better provide emergency medical care to people in humanitarian crises.
One method for doing this is a special fund within MSF which helps staff develop and test new approaches to problems and challenges our teams face in our projects around the world. We call it the 'Sapling Nursery'. Four projects have just been funded from the latest round of proposals and we wanted to share them with you...

1. Electronic patient registration in therapeutic feeding centres

A member of MSF staff weighs a baby at a therapeutic feeding centre in Tanzania
A small patient is weighed at a therapeutic feeding centre in Tanzania Photo: Luca Sola.
MSF treats approximately 250,000 malnourished people every year, many of whom are children, in therapeutic feeding centres. Patients who are malnourished but don’t need hospitalising are given medical care, a supply of high energy food, and an appointment for their next review date.  
When they arrive at a therapeutic feeding centre, each patient’s details are recorded by hand in a registration book. A data entry clerk then types this data into an MSF data tool that feeds a Health Information System. This data is then checked and analysed by medical teams to understand the extent of the malnutrition in the area and to make sure that patients are getting the best possible care. 
These manual steps are prone to human error, and require a lot of staff resource and management capacity. As well as providing more reliable data for analysis, a more efficient, electronic registration process could relieve some of this burden, meaning that field teams can spend more of their time concentrating on medical care and getting the best possible outcomes for patients. 


2. Stories of change

A woman with a beaming smile stands before a group of young people
An MSF team member spreading the word about HIV in Malawi. Photo: Luca Sola.
Health communications in humanitarian medical interventions can range from promoting mosquito nets to fight malaria to educating communities about dangerous local practices. Traditionally they are one way - from the health provider to the local community. Additionally, the success of many approaches can be temporary and it can be difficult to measure whether our communications encourage people to keep up healthy behaviours in the long term, and whether this makes a difference to the number of people getting ill or dying. 
The Stories of Change team is looking to develop sustainable, collaborative and culturally appropriate tools that leverage the power of storytelling to improve awareness, prevention and access to MSF services. If successful, they hope to create a Stories of Change toolbox to help MSF community health workers communicate health messaging and provide positive and lasting, health-focused behavioural change in the communities in which we work.

3. Improved information for outbreak response

Two men work at a laptop with an MSF logo on it.

Consulting records during an outbreak of malaria in DRC. Photo: Guillaume Brumagne / MSF

The word ‘reporting’ often elicits groans from those that hear it. However it is fundamental to what MSF does and never more so that during disease outbreaks. Whether it's cholera, ebola or measles, good quality, timely, and appropriate information can improve coordination and lead to better decision-making and a more effective response to any outbreak. That means we can be on the ground quicker, giving the right care, and saving more lives. 

Like any large organisation, MSF can struggle with an overload of data and information, often burdening teams in the field, whilst the right information doesn’t always reach the right people at the right time.
This project seeks to define the information needs in outbreak response and enable sharing and analysis in a consistent and intelligent way; ensuring a joined up, coordinated response, while at the same time reducing the burden on those gathering the data on the ground.


4. Next phase of IV bag holder for Land Cruisers

A woman and a man sit together by a dummy dressed as a patient in a wooden model of a land cruiser
The team test out one of their prototypes in Phase One of the project. Photo: Fearsome / MSF.
When patients are transferred in MSF Land Cruisers, they they often need intravenous fluids - bags of fluid that are run directly into the blood and help keep the patient hydrated and stable. As most MSF Land Cruisers are multi-purpose, there is no good place to keep the bag safe and stable and it usually gets tied inside the vehicle with a piece of string or a surgical glove (although sometimes patients or their carers have to hold it themselves). In January 2017, a nurse, a logistician and product design engineer came together to try and develop a better solution, so that no MSF staff member would ever have to run for a piece of string during a patient transfer again.
The prototype IV bag holder was developed and successfully lab tested. The team will now take this further and test it in the field, after which designs can be finalised and a final product can be made available for fitting into every MSF Land Cruiser that needs it.

We believe it's important to look for ideas that have the potential for positive impact on our work, and to help them develop so they can grow and be beneficial beyond the place in which they were conceived. 

These are just four of the projects which have the potential to make a difference to patients in medical crises around the world. To hear more about these kinds of projects, follow @MSF_Innovation