Necessity Is the Mother of Invention in Healthcare, Too

Aug. 29, 2014
In the last few years, health systems have shown a strong interest in fostering innovation among their own employees and partnering with startups and apps developers. Among the most active is Carolinas HealthCare System, whose partnership with Edison Nation helps medical innovations reach the marketplace.

In the last few years, health systems have shown a strong interest in fostering innovation among their own employees and partnering with startups and apps developers. And healthcare startup incubators are cropping up across the country. One system that has doubled down on these efforts is Carolinas HealthCare System, which has a network of more than 900 care locations includes academic medical centers, hospitals, physician practices, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, and nursing homes in North Carolina and South Carolina. In 2012, it partnered with Edison Nation, which had a track record of working to commercialize inventions in the consumer space, to form Edison Nation Medical, based in Charlotte, N.C.

Inventors submit ideas through a secure online portal, and they are vetted through a multi-step review process. The goal is to license each qualified product idea to a medical manufacturer. When Edison Nation Medical is successful, it splits licensing royalties 50/50 with the inventor.

This week I had a chance to interview Bobby Grajewski, president of Edison Nation Medical, about its goals and its relationship with Carolinas HealthCare.

HCI: How did the partnership with Carolinas Healthcare come together? What were they looking for?

Grajewski: Edison National Medical was formed in 2012 out of a need. Carolinas Healthcare System wanted a pathway for its 60,000 employees to submit medical device ideas and inventions for review from a medical efficacy, intellectual property, and commercialization perspective, and they wanted a pathway for those products to get into the marketplace. They were good at delivering care, but they weren’t so good at all the management and heavy lifting involved with reviewing an idea from a sketch on the back of a napkin to a fully developed product.

So they did a nationwide search looking for a group to help them. Edison Nation, which was local and had a 10-year track record of doing this in the consumer space and some successful medical-related products, was chosen. What Edison Nation brings to the table is our deep expertise in intellectual property and commercialization and deep networks in manufacturing on the consumer side and in the medical device arena. What Carolinas Healthcare brings to the table is their medical efficacy expertise, their access to medical experts to review products. Their 45 hospitals provide a ripe area to test and trial those products, with the best products often being adopted by them as an early customer.

Bobby Grajewski

HCI: Are the people reviewing ideas all or mostly from Carolinas HealthCare?

Grajewski: On the medical efficacy side, we have 300 medical experts we can rely on, and the vast majority are Carolinas-related. On the intellectual property and legal side, that is done internally and with outsourced experts. On the business development side, that is done internally and through consultants across the country looking for opportunities and building relationships.

HCI: Across the industry we are seeing more cases of hospitals creating chief innovation officer positions and innovation centers and more healthcare startup incubators. Are you noticing a change in mindset about innovation? If so, what is causing it?

Grajewski: The first thing is the Affordable Care Act. The changes to the ecosystem got healthcare systems to open their eyes to the future. The second thing involves software improvements, including big data and the cloud, that are helping deliver information faster, better and cheaper than ever before. That has been tremendous in allowing new models to come into existence, focusing around the consumer-centric care model. Finally, aging demographics and greater demands on the system combined with reductions in reimbursement have put a laser focus on cost reductions. That is driving innovation. You can squeeze vendors and cut on prices only so much. You eventually have to start figuring out processes, systems and products that can be doing things more efficiently, so I think for the first time there is this a tremendous focus on innovation.

HCI: Although Carolinas HealthCare was interested in establishing this for its employee innovations, anyone can participate, correct?

Grajewski: In the first two years we have received 3,000 medical innovations from over 100 different countries. Carolinas wanted their employees to be the initial backbone, but they also want this to be a pathway for ideas and a place where those ideas get tested and become the new standard of care.

HCI: Does Carolinas make itself available to be a test bed for new products?

Grajewski: They do, but they are not the only ones. We are also building out relationships with other healthcare systems around the country.

HCI: If I am an employee of a health system or an academic medical center and have an idea, would my employer necessarily be open to me working with Edison Nation Medical or would they see that invention as their intellectual property?

Grajewski: Every healthcare system and university is different. There is no easy answer. For some, the university or hospital owns all the intellectual property you create. For others, there is a joint share agreement, and others have no IP policy at all and everything belongs to the employee. We ask people we work with to double-check those policies with their institution. However, we do have relationships with over 60 different universities for whom we are acting as a complementary service to their own university tech transfer efforts.

Are the inventors likely to be someone in the trenches such as a nurse or a radiologist vs. an inventor working alone in a garage?

Grajewski: It really runs the gamut. When we first launched, we targeted nurses and doctors because they are in the field every day. But what they lacked was the risk appetite to quit their job and run with an invention or they lacked the know-how to build a business or access to capital or purchasing arms of hospitals. So that was our initial target, and they are a large part of our overall community. But you will always get those garage inventors who come out of the woodwork.

One invention, called Site Saver, is an IV stabilization device that was invented by a patient who had an extended stay in the hospital. He came up with the idea because he was so tired of the nurse missing his vein. He sketched the idea on the back of his insurance form.

HCI: On your web site I saw five or six idea searches active. Who came up with those and prioritized them?

Grajewski: We have both a push and a pull model. We will speak with healthcare partners, including Carolinas, and do our own market research on general challenges where they are experiencing pain points. We also partner with medical device companies such as Covidien to target technologies that complement their product portfolio. Right now, for instance, we are running a search with Covidien on remote patient monitoring.

HCI: So how does the business model work with those medical device company partnerships?

Grajewski: They get the right of first refusal to license those technologies that we help find for them. If they choose not to license it, then we can go out to a larger pool of healthcare partners.

HCI: Can you give an example of an invention that speaks to the potential impact?

Grajewski: Sure. One is called GuardianOR. It is a bifurcated trashcan with metal detection around the rim. It was invented by a former medical device salesman who kept getting feedback from OR nurses, who said what they really needed was a way to avoid throwing away medical equipment after a procedure. When we looked into that problem, we realized it was a multimillion-dollar problem for numerous hospitals. In the rush to turn over operating rooms, medical equipment gets thrown away inadvertently. So we have created this trashcan and we are rolling it out into Carolinas HealthCare System in the fall. We are already receiving pre-orders, and we are excited because we think it is really addressing a need.

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