Championing patient-centric innovation

Julie Wheelan


Necessity is the mother of invention. Many of today’s common consumer products were simply the results of an individual inventor identifying a “pain point” and invent the remedy.

But what about life’s true pain points -- issues such as arthritis, hearing loss, or hospital-acquired infections? Where will the solutions for these and hundreds of other ailments come from? Medical-device innovation is a multi-billion dollar industry with researchers and product developers searching for ways to improve patient care and quality of life. But an often overlooked source for inspiration are those who live or work on the front lines of health care who and who have the necessary insight and expertise to add to the invention process.

By training, doctors always look for ways to heal patients and many successful medical inventions have resulted from an inquisitive and creative physician. In an article for Health Affairs, Alex Chatterii demonstrated that physicians account for almost 20 percent of approximately 26,000 medical-device patents filed in the United States from 1990 to 1996. Most physicians who file medical-device patents are not at academic institutions but in a group, two-physician practice or solo practice, Chatterji observed, suggesting that these individual inventors would apply for many more patents if they had fewer barriers to filing. 

Nurses have also been prolific innovators in health care. Because nurses work so closely with patients, they often improvise ways to increase patient comfort, enhance treatment and facilitate care by developing workarounds: Myriad inventions have made their way from nurses' imagination into clinical practice.

Armed with medical knowledge and the compassion to provide care for those in need, doctors and nurses are in a perfect position to solve the problems facing health care. Involving these individuals in the dialogue about how to improve patient care is critical for ensuring that the solutions developed have the biggest and most meaningful impact possible.

Numerous paths can bring a health-care invention idea to life, but in all cases, true innovation occurs most optimally when the brilliant ideas of physicians, nurses, other caregivers and patients are connected to the stakeholders and organizations capable of helping to bring those ideas to life. In an industry that is ripe for disruption, patient-centric innovation will lead to the discovery and deployment of products and processes that improve the quality of care and positively affect patient outcomes.

Technological advances have enabled virtual marketplaces such as Edison Nation Medical to connect those who have brilliant ideas with the ability to have their ideas evaluated, developed, and potentially commercialized. For example, operating room nurse Ginny Porowski developed a simple yet novel way for more safely disposing of contaminated surgical gowns and reducing the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Porowski partnered with Edison Nation Medical and today the GoGown is licensed to Medline Industries, a multibillion-dollar distributor of medical products.

By providing those who work at the ground level of healthcare to have a voice in shaping innovation, patient care is being improved at a pace that never existed before in the past.


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