Parents from all over have Marion Donovan to thank for coming up with a solution to the daily pain of cleaning cloth diapers. Without her disposable diaper idea, Victor Mills may never have created Pampers. Salute Josephine Cochran for patenting the first home dishwasher and Whitcomb Judson for creating the first zipper for clothing.
But what about the real pains in life? What are the remedies for chronic knee pain, arthritis or hospital-acquired infections? Where will the solutions for these and hundreds of other ailments come from? The medical-device industry is a multibillion dollar industry with researchers and product developers searching for cures. But an often-overlooked source for great ideas are those who live or work on the front lines of health care with the necessary insight and expertise to add to the invention process.
Doctors as inventors.
By training, doctors are always looking for ways to cure patients and many successful medical inventions have resulted from a physician questioning why something is done a certain way.
Pathologist Stephen C. Wardlaw and endocrinologist Robert A. Levine invented a simple device for performing complete blood counts, the QBC-STAR, which the U.S. military tapped during Operation Desert Storm. A seasoned urologist, Dr. Errol Singh came up with the DirectVision device, which improved upon the practice of catheterization for men.
In an article for Health Affairs Alex Chatterji demonstrated that physicians account for almost 20 percent of about 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 as innovators.
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.
For example, in the 1950s Bessie Blout developed a feeding-tube apparatus for amputees.
Emergency department nurse, Anita Dorr, developed the Crash Cart in 1968.
The I.V. House, an intravenous therapy product line, is the 1990 invention of mother-daughter duo Betty M. Rozier, an entrepreneur, and Lisa M. Vallino, a pediatric emergency nurse.
ColorSafe IV lines were developed by two registered nurses, Terri Barton-Salinas and Gail Barton-Hay in 2003.
Oncology and intensive care nurse, Terri Street came up with T-Tag, a tamper-proof, color-coded tag that attaches easily to intravenous, enteral and oxygen tubing. The color-coding (such as sea-green on Saturday), alerts nurses of day the tubing was put into use.
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.
Collaborating to create new products.
Numerous paths can bring a health-care invention idea to life, but in all cases, collaboration and the right connections are required. True innovation can occur 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.
A new division of my company, Edison Nation Medical, provides a valuable resource in serving as a trusted partner to evaluate an idea, determine the efficacy and then develop a product to the point where it's ready to be licensed to a medical-products manufacturer. For example, operating room nurse Ginny Porowski developed a simple yet novel way for more safely disposing of surgical gowns after observing colleagues removing them and sought a way to reduce 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.
With similar inventiveness, Dr. William Nordt, an orthopedic surgeon, recognized the lack of a simple, cost-effective remedy for those experiencing overuse injuries and created an elastomeric knee brace. He licensed the innovation to Donjoy Global in 2009 and today the Reaction Knee Brace is a widely used treatment option for chronic knee pain. Dr. Nordt developed and licensed his product with the help of my company, Enventys, which serves as the product development and engineering arm of Edison Nation.