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Getting Innovators To Come To Work — At A Children’s Hospital

Exterior of Children's Mercy Hospital Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. (
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2 minute read

Health care providers who work with kids are natural innovators, says Krista Nelson, Children’s Mercy Hospital’s director of innovation development.

Nelson, an expert in innovation — not medicine, was hired by the hospital to run its new Center for Pediatric Innovation.

“In the children’s hospital or pediatric environment, we really deal with every size of child from a premature baby all the up to the captain of the football team at one of our big high schools,” says Nelson.

“So with the equipment that they use, with the different things they have to make work for every-sized child, I would say that every day our nurses, our providers are innovating.”

The hospital hired Nelson in March 2015 — but, she says, pointing to the Cardiac High Acuity Monitoring Program, innovation is nothing new there.

“I have a background more in innovation as a practice, and software and product development, so I come in with a very fresh mindset,” Nelson says. “When they bring me their ideas, I’m looking at it in a new way and looking for the possibilities. I’m there to just enable them to bring those ideas forward and to be able to have a method and a means of actually bringing them to life.”

The effort has already paid off: Her department has developed a new app from inception to distribution on iTunes. The Children’s Mercy Pediatric Decision Support app guides healthcare providers and emergency personnel — especially in areas where a pediatric hospital may be far away — in how to test and treat an infant running a high fever.

“They will go through and say the age of the infant—is it 90 days or less? Is the infant ill appearing?” she explains. “It’s really something to help, and we at Children’s Mercy want to enable our community providers and really those rural hospitals to provide the best care to kids.”

Nelson talked about her work cultivating innovation in a medical environment as part of KCUR’s Innovation KC series. Some of her other reflections:

On Not Being a Doctor

It makes it, I think, easier. I’m not stuck in the old ways of the things we’ve done for years and years. I think I have fresh eyes and I can really come in and help put a new perspective on it. … At first that question came up. The person that eventually hired me said very clearly, “If I want someone that understands the medical field, I have 7,000 people I can ask for that, but I need someone who understands innovation.”

On how her old job at Hallmark compares with her work at Children’s Mercy

I think that innovation as a practice can be applied to any industry.

Hallmark, of course, is such a creative company and an amazing business in Kansas City. I think it’s interesting to put in a lot of rigor and structure. With innovation, you definitely want it to be nimble and agile, but at the same time, it has a very defined process that you go through to improve your likelihood of success. And putting that structure into a very creative environment wasn’t always … (Nelson pauses). What I think ultimately ended up happening is all these creatives really adopted this new kind of thinking.

Whereas at Children’s Mercy, you’re dealing with people who are very scientific minded, so they’re already thinking about the what-ifs, and the hypothesis, and how do I solve for this, and really wanting to invent something new. That’s very embedded in the culture.

On what comes next

We have three key focus areas, the first one being really embedding a culture of innovation. Another area of focus is advancing their ideas–so taking ideas from those in the hospital and advancing them forward. And then we’re really focusing on the third bucket, which is creating something new. So a lot of what we’re thinking about it “How do we create new innovation models, growing our innovation ecosystem within Kansas City?”

One of our key positioning statements is “We want innovators to come to work.” So we’re working toward that mindset as part of our strategy.

— Brian Ellison is a contributor and host of KCUR’s political podcast Statehouse Blend Missouri. You can reach him at or on Twitter, @ptsbrian. For more stories on health and other topics, go to

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