Looking to physicians as champions for change and innovation

Physicians are scientists at heart. They are continuously seeking to learn new techniques and ways to practice medicine. They are drawn to discovery and exploring new frontiers. Physicians are champions for innovation. The Innovation Institute was formed with this in mind. After only a few months of operation, we are beginning to see some of […]

Physicians are scientists at heart. They are continuously seeking to learn new techniques and ways to practice medicine. They are drawn to discovery and exploring new frontiers. Physicians are champions for innovation. The Innovation Institute was formed with this in mind. After only a few months of operation, we are beginning to see some of the many ideas from physicians, clinicians, and other hospital employees. Their submissions are now in various stages of evaluation for potential commercialization.

Examples of Idea Submissions

One radiology technologist filed several provisional patent applications for ideas that could potentially reduce risk for patients. Another promising invention focuses on monitoring technology, which can find a central venous catheter using a less costly method that is safer for patients and less cumbersome than the X-ray method currently used. Other ideas include how to improve sterile fields in surgery, a product to increase hand washing compliance and reduce patient infections, an implant that helps patients with spinal cord injuries, and a new trach for children. These are just a few of the ideas currently being evaluated at The Innovation Institute.

Physicians and employees are encouraged to bring forth their ideas and be champions for innovation. There is no downside to bringing an idea to The Institute. The Institute’s Lab works with subject matter experts who can give feedback on ideas, help inventors improve their concepts, and get their ideas to a prototype and ultimately to market if it is something that can be commercialized.

Where do ideas or inventions come from?

Ideas and inventions originate from different scenarios that bring them to the forefront:

1. Burning Platform-Immediate Need

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2. Accidental Discovery

3. Two Different Ideas come together

4. Trial and error

5. Desire to make things better

Burning Platform – Immediate Need

Sometimes ideas come about because of a burning platform or immediate need for a solution. When Apollo 13 had the explosion on board, the filtration system was damaged, among other things. Carbon monoxide was filling the module and would eventually kill the astronauts if the engineers could not figure out how to design a new filter out of the materials on board the spacecraft. Fortunately, they were successful.

When Tom Fogarty, MD, invented the arterial embolectomy catheter, better known as the balloon catheter, he did so because he felt an immediate need to design it to save lives. He states that he was persistent to the point of obnoxiousness and was unwilling to give up. He explained that if there is one thing that he has learned, it’s to never give up. You learn from what doesn’t work.

Accidental Discovery

Inventions sometimes come to the forefront by accidental discovery. The invention of the telephone, the Post-it Note and the discovery of Velcro all were discovered by accident. Usually, scientific progress is associated with rigorous research and analysis, but it’s not always the case. A surprising number of discoveries owe a lot to chance.

Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is one example. It took place in 1928 when he left a culture plate smeared with Staphylococcus bacteria on his lab bench while he went on a two-week holiday. He came home to see that the culture had been contaminated by a fungus, which stopped the bacteria growing. He had discovered an antibiotic!

Two Different Ideas Come Together

There are several examples of situations where two ideas come together to solve a problem or create a new product. Steve Jobs called it, “connecting the unconnected.” Einstein called it the “combinatorial play.”

In St. Louis, Missouri during the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, George Bang was selling ice cream in a cup. Allegedly, he ran out of cups and was given rolled-up waffles to serve it in from the waffle maker in the next booth, Ernest A. Hamwi. This was the first ice cream cone!

The idea of putting your mp3, your computer, and your phone all on one device is the essence of the iPhone. Twenty years ago, no one would have thought that all three of these could be combined into one device. People had their Sony headphones to listen to music, their laptops to get emails and search the web, and their phones to make calls.

Trial and Error

Sometimes inventions or ideas are conceptual and require years of endless effort and attempts before the final solution or invention comes about. Invention often requires taking risk and failing in order to eventually break through with a successful invention. Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb had a hard time of it. He went through a trial and error process in which he tested thousands of materials. Undaunted by failures, Edison finally found the right material to develop the light bulb. The story goes that “Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb.” When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

It’s called failing forward! Often times the greatest success comes about or is built on failure and frustration. The one common mantra of great inventors is the “never give up” attitude.

Desire to Make Things Better

Sometimes inventions come about from small incremental changes that someone on the front line comes up with. An example of this comes from a nurse at Northshore LIJ who worked in the Emergency Department. She was constantly taking down the curtains that separate patients to have them laundered. She thought that there had to be a better way to keep them sterile since she was only touching them in one spot. She designed a sleeve that could be removed and laundered rather than having the entire curtain taken down. This simple solution resulted in significant royalties for her invention. She had a desire to make it better and her simple solution was very valuable.


Most people do not think of themselves as inventors and are reluctant to bring forth their ideas. However, everyone has had a good idea and the potential to be an inventor. All it takes is a little initiative. Just think about one way that you could make your job easier or one thing that would improve patient care. Our nation’s heritage is one of being ingenious, competitive, and inventive. It’s part of our DNA. We just need to tap into it! Physicians are champions for innovation.

If you have an idea or want more information about The Innovation Institute, check out our website at or contact us at 714-735-3751.

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