He followed critical care nurses on their daily rounds and observed them as they attended to their patients. Steve’s goal? To better understand nurses’ pain points and find out what might make their lives as health care clinicians easier, and figure out how to help improve patient outcomes.
Steve noticed that as nurses accessed their patients’ veins with an I.V., they ingeniously – yet somewhat tediously – applied the gauze and tape in a way that allowed them to keep an eye on the insertion site. They wanted to make sure they could watch for signs of potential infection.
“The nurses told me they wanted to have a gentler adhesive,” says Steve. “But I could see right away that the nurses also needed an I.V. site dressing that was transparent – something that would enable them to easily monitor for infections.”
And that’s exactly what he set out to design. Today, the invention – Tegaderm™ I.V. dressings – is a something medical professionals around the globe rely on daily to do their jobs. But success didn’t happen overnight. It took scientific ingenuity, persistence and constant collaboration with clinicians to evolve the product to continue to meet patient needs.
In 1978, as Steve and other 3M scientists began working on the dressing for the critical care nurses, they knew it would have to meet a number of needs in addition to being transparent. It would need to allow for effective oxygen-vapor exchange while helping protect against external contaminants. It would need to be gentle on skin, yet have the staying power needed for longer-term catheter securement.
And importantly, it would need to have a delivery system that would make the application easy for the nurses to apply to patients’ skin.
As he began working on the new dressing, Steve decided to use a nonwoven material with a polymer on top. But he could only use a minimal amount of polymer, as it was very expensive at the time, and he wanted this to be a cost-effective solution for hospitals. He kept trying to make the nonwoven thinner and thinner so he wouldn’t have to use as much polymer, which turned out to be a “really big plus” – as Steve puts it – for the invention.
“As I was trying to make everything thinner, I realized that – from a heat and thermodynamic standpoint – the nonwoven and polymer weren’t bonding well enough,” says Steve. “So when I put an adhesive onto the film and then transferred it onto the body, all of a sudden I realized I had a transparent dressing with a delivery system.”
Turns out that paper “frame” – or delivery system – is the claim to fame of Tegaderm dressings.
Imagine a piece of plastic wrap that you use to cover your leftovers. Now imagine that plastic wrap is coated with a tacky adhesive. The second you pull it off the roll, it would start sticking to itself and would be impossible to work with. Without a delivery system, the film quickly becomes a crumpled mess of stickiness.
The picture-frame delivery system keeps the thin film in place, making it easy for clinicians to accurately place the dressing on a patient, and minimizes the potential for the dressing to stick to the glove or to itself. It even permits one-handed application. Nurses remove the Tegaderm dressing from the paper backing, set it on the skin, press it down, and then pull off the frame.
“When we were finally able to show the nurses the transparent dressings and how easy they were to apply, they loved it,” says Steve. “And when we introduced the product in the United States in 1981, the demand quickly became greater than what we could keep up with. We knew we were onto something big.”
Fast forward 35 years, and the nurse-inspired invention is now the world leader in transparent dressings, used in more than 140 countries. The dressings are multi-faceted – they can be used to cover and protect catheter sites and wounds; to maintain a moist environment for wound healing; as a protective cover over at-risk skin; to secure devices to the skin; and more.
Throughout three decades of working on finding new ways to evolve the product, Steve and the Tegaderm dressings team have continued to collaborate with health care professionals around the world to determine how their needs are evolving.
Constant communication with nurses is what lead to the development of products that continue to simplify and improve care practices – decade after decade. Steve believes that success comes from listening to customers and responding to their needs.
“Customer feedback is essential in every product development process at 3M,” he says. “We can have all kinds of cutting-edge science, but it’s absolutely worthless if you don’t have the customer need behind it.”