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Hospital system gathers innovations from regular hospital staff

By David Schwartz
Published: February 22nd, 2012

The OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute is turning OhioHealth hospital staff –from nurses to shuttle-bus drivers — into real innovators. Since its formation in 2006, the nonprofit institute has leant an ear to over 130 pitches by hospital employees with ideas for new products. Out of these, 11 new companies have been formed, and seven products are in clinical use. Other products are in varying stages of development and commercialization.

Patricia Eisendhardt, manager of commercialization at the institute, says that in most cases “we start with the end user of the product. [Staff] have recognized some unmet need and come to us, asking, ‘Could I do something to meet this need?’”

This was just the case with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Way Wasielewski of Grant Medical Center, who recognized the need for a quick, easy and noninvasive way to get 3D images of knees without using radiation. Knowing that many doctors had long wished for the same, Wasilewski says “the ‘eureka moment’ was when I realized we now have all the parts to create the technology.”

Using his invention, dubbed the JointVue, doctors and technicians can wave a wand-shaped electromagnetic tracker to produce a 3-D image of a knee on a video screen. An accessory allows a technician to watch in real time as a needle is inserted into the knee. Primarily a computer software program, JointVue can be applied to basically any standard ultrasound unit and is currently in use at Grant, though it hasn’t yet hit the market.
Not all of the new OhioHealth companies sprang from health care professionals, however. For instance the aforementioned shuttle-bus driver, retired music teacher Steve Foster, came up with a clever idea for a sanitary toilet seat lid lifter. On his approaching Eisendhart with the concept, Foster says their conversation was fulfilling. “In two minutes’ time,” he elaborates, “she asked all the right questions. What had I done with it? When did I develop it? How did I develop it?”

The vetting process starts with an appointment, set up via phone or email, at the institute’s commercialization office. After filling out a questionnaire, the potential inventor talks with the office about a commercialization plan. The plan will include an evaluation phase (market research, technical review, patent assistance), which can take up to four months; then a navigation phase (fundraising, prototyping and business incubation), which can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year. Next comes implementation. Depending on a project’s needs, the institute can help with commercialization, or can turn it over to a third party. While the maximum number of projects is yet to be established, the institute can currently handle more than 30 new concepts per year on top of existing or ongoing projects.

The institute differs from traditional research institutions in two ways. For one, it doesn’t look to grant-funded researchers for its ideas. The institute also approaches ownership differently, in that while many groups keep commercial rights to inventions, at OhioHealth the inventor is given full ownership. All OhioHealth asks for in return is that the inventors put their work to use in its medical facilities.

The program caught some OhioHealth staff off-guard, but they soon came around.

“When they came up with this idea, I was kind of suspicious, to tell you the truth,” says Dr. Gary Ansel, a cardiologist at Riverside hospital. Dr. Ansel has developed several ideas for inventions. “I can tell you, with any device and patent application you’ll talk to a panel and everyone will be positive,” he says, commenting on his past experience. “But at the end of the day, someone is making a lot of money and you make very little. There’s never been an easy way to go through the sharks and not get eaten up.”

Ansel was impressed when he brought his ideas to the OhioHealth institute, even when they found his first idea had problems. “The panel vetted it and figured you couldn’t protect the intellectual property,” he says. “So instead of spending $30,000 of my own money doing a patent search, this way we had a panel of experts who were able to say, ‘That’s not worth it.’”

Tim Haynes, CEO of TechColumbus, says OhioHealth’s commercialization activity is a big success. “They saw a real opportunity to tap into the creativity of their doctors, especially those who have that mindset to think creatively and innovatively to improve patient care.”

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

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