Rethinking Research and Innovation at University Hospitals
March 31, 2022
UH Clinical Update | April 2022
With our talented workforce of 30,000+ caregivers, groundbreaking ideas can come from anywhere – please share them us
By Cliff A. Megerian, MD, FACS, Chief Executive Officer; Jane and Henry Meyer Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair
Our University Hospitals mission, as all know, is To Heal. To Teach. To Discover.
Day in and day out, however, discovery in a health care organization can be viewed myopically as being the product of research grants and research programs that are funded by the federal government or the National Institutes of Health, by private foundations or through clinical trial work, all of which does drive clinical discovery.
Yet it’s important we keep in mind that we have 32,000 amazing caregivers, and that a healthy organization creates an environment where every caregiver/employee feels that his or her ideas are important and could positively affect a patient’s health.
Such an organization promotes, rewards and supports innovation, invention and idea creation, with the overarching goal of helping others. That is why, six years ago, we created the UH Ventures and innovation team, which is under the leadership of David Sylvan, Kip Lee, and Neil Wyant.
Yes, ideas and inventions are most often driven by full-time researchers and scientists. And we have had great success in that realm, most recently and impressively with EsoCheck, a non-invasive cell-sampling device bundled with highly accurate DNA markers to help detect GERD, which may develop into Barrett’s esophagus. The initial public offering (IPO) last October raised $70 million. That technology was invented by UH physicians Sanford Markowitz-Ingalls, Amitabh Chak and Joseph Willis.
But a healthy organization is not fully actualized until it utilizes the brilliance of people who may not be full-time researchers or scientists but who may be, for example, a group of respiratory therapists at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, who developed a mobile respiratory unit that attaches to a patient’s tracheostomy and frees those children from being constantly tethered to their beds.
Now we have a new mechanism through which those ideas can be brought to the marketplace, achieve patent protection, and be turned into companies. It is the Feuer Innovation Accelerator Fund, which was created through a generous $2 million donation from Michael and Ellen Feuer (Michael was the co-founder of Office Max) and a former board member of UH Cleveland Medical Center.
So, anyone who works at UH and comes up with an innovation or invention can apply for funding up to $25,000. Three finalists can receive that amount, and, even more importantly, then have a team of experts from UH Ventures help them bring the product to market.
The great news is that in the last year alone, we have gone from having just a few applications to more than 90 in 2021. In our first call for ideas in Q3 of 2021, we received 65 applications in for the Feuer Innovation Accelerator Fund from UH caregivers and awarded a total of $60,000.
We chose three inaugural award winners who are being directly supported by UH Ventures:
- The PEAS nutritional portal with automatic data retrieval and reporting for clinicians, dietitians and nurses to better track and prevent malnutrition, improve quality and optimize clinical decision making, an innovation offered by UH caregivers Aaron Fletcher and Irissa Bachman.
- HAADS, a high-level automated atomic-oxygen decontamination system inspired by NASA to sterilize PPE, by UH physicians Shine Raju and Amrita John.
- Rainbow Runner, the mobility system for trach-vent pediatric patients I mentioned above, which enables them to play, explore and move in all directions; by UH rehab specialist Anna Maus, occupational therapist Molly Wiberg, physical therapist Susan Dewhirst and respiratory therapist Michelle Drabish.
We will offer a new funding round for ideas twice a year for people who work at UH, whether they are physicians, nurses, physical therapists, dietitians, EVS workers, patient transporters – anyone. We want to turn the brainpower of our caregivers into a discovery machine. Those whose ideas are chosen will be rewarded and supported, and this is all part of the new culture of UH.
Caregivers can submit an idea, invention or innovation for the live Spring Cycle at this link: https://ventures.uhhospitals.org/call-for-ideas/. The deadline for applying in this round is May 30. The next round for applying will be during the Fall Cycle, from July 1 through Sept. 30. Note that UH also offers other funding mechanisms for innovations, which you will find described on the same page.
Kip Lee describes the process: “People may have just a germ of an idea and that is enough for them to apply – by going to the submission webpage and filling out the Call For Ideas! form,” Kip says. “The team considers the idea to determine if there is a market or a user need. We will look at the size of the problem and can even assist in building a low-fidelity prototype to test out a working hypothesis by caregivers. We also take into account the innovation’s applicability and scalability and can help formulate a business model.”
“Note that the idea does not have to be a medical device or medical technology – it can be an innovative way of delivering or improving a service for something as specific as a check-in process,” says Kip.
This pitching of an idea for a product or innovation might sound like “Shark Tank,” but there’s a key difference, he explains. “The people who pitch on the show already have a business plan, a working product or even initial sales. They’ve already had to do a lot of work to get there.
“Here, you can start with an idea along with commitment to engage in the work to be done. We can guide and help with the rest. It’s not just the dollars, but the support services needed to bring an invention to life that we offer. You don’t need to have a polished presentation. We can work with caregivers to determine if there is a market, whether a prototype needs to be made. We can take something from beginning to end.”
Please – if you have an idea, invention or innovation to offer, apply at https://ventures.uhhospitals.org/call-for-ideas/.