Have you been ignoring your inner inventor? In March, the New York Times published an article about anesthesiologist Nathaniel Sims, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, who has registered more than 10 patents for medical devices throughout his career. According to Sims, his best innovation to date involved modifying a drug infusion pump frequently used in hospitals to dispense the proper doses of medicine. Sims is also a pilot, and when he noticed that he could obtain navigation information from regularly updated databases, he thought about how to apply that concept to his field so that physicians could use a device preprogrammed with the necessary data to figure out dosages themselves.

Sims and a small team built an electronic device that worked with an existing pump to provide patients with the correct doses of the proper drug. Alaris Medical Systems was the first established medical supply firm to use the technology, and the Alaris “smart” pump has since garnered $700 million in sales.

Sims represents what Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, calls “user-driven innovation.” A proponent of letting users of products modify them or improve them because they may come up with changes that manufacturers never considered, von Hippel discovered through studies that users developed 82% of new capabilities for scientific instruments, such as electron microscopes.

There have probably been times you have thought of a way to improve the test and medical equipment you use or repair routinely. If you have, you represent what could be a significant untapped vein of innovation and, more importantly, you could have the basis for a new product.

In the March 20 edition of 24×7’s online newsletter the Weekly Jolt we reported that both Akron General Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic are interested in fostering medical device innovation.

Akron General launched the Technology Transfer, Commercialization, and Innovation Office, which enables the hospital to partner with start-up companies trying to bring new medical products to market. Akron General plans to capitalize on its patient care and research expertise and will give entrepreneurs access to research facilities and equipment.

The Cleveland Clinic’s CCF Innovations is its technology commercialization arm and oversees the clinic’s technology innovation strategy. It enhances product-oriented advances throughout the clinic and adapts promising therapies, devices, and diagnostics into valuable medical products.

If you have an idea, it’s possible that your facility would recognize the value your innovation could bring to patients and would consider supporting your efforts.

If not, ASM International (www.asminternational.org) in Ohio recently created a comprehensive database of information on materials for cardiovascular devices that provides mechanical, physical biological response, and drug-compatibility properties for the materials and coatings used in cardiovascular applications.

The FDA also holds regular Webinars and classes that cover the funding of ideas and regulations concerning new devices. You can find this information by clicking on “conference calendar” at www.fdanews.com.

So the next time you think of a better way equipment could be designed, don’t stop there. Think about what you can do to modify the design yourself, and see where it takes you.

Julie Kirst