HHS Idea Lab launches initiative to help consumers participate in medical device development

HHS CTO Susannah Fox talked about the Invent Health initiative at StartUp Health Festival in San Francisco this week.

The way Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Susannah Fox sees it, the U.S. government totally missed the Internet boom and has been trying to catch up with ever since.

“I would say gently that the government was caught flat footed when the Internet came about,” she said

As a way of making sure it’s better prepared for “the maker movement,” it has launched Invent Health through the HHS Idea Lab.

Fox made the announcement at the StartUp Health Festival in San Francisco this week.

The theme of entrepreneurs identifying unmet needs in healthcare and working with the government to advance them is not a new concept for Fox. She spoke at the MedCity News conference ENGAGE about an entrepreneur-in-residence program to support government innovation.

The Invent Health website highlights some examples of the kind of consumer entrepreneur technology it is looking for.

One company led by a nurse a U-shaped, domed plastic cover to protect I.V. lines. The design was inspired by the makeshift solutions that nurses often create out of plastic drinking cups and tape. Kind of an adult version of CareAline’s approach to protecting pic lines in children’s IVs.

Its website offered a few examples of consumer inventors disrupting healthcare and life sciences such as the concept of the paper microscope as a response to the need for accurate diagnostic tools in low-risk environments. Manu Prakash, who runs a bioengineering lab at Stanford University, created a foldable paper microscope that is powerful enough to detect E.coli bacteria, the website read.

Invent Health will identify key areas to spur further innovation and help all of us to better understand how the maker movement will affect our work at HHS, the website said.

At one point in her talk, Fox compared the growing interest in consumers developing inventions using 3D printing with the invention of SPANX. The need was there and they went for it.

It sounds a lot the government wants to establish a mechanism for crowdsourced design. But it leaves a lot of questions unanswered about how that would work especially in the realm of healthcare. Although Fox referenced the need for people to understand what the different classes of medical devices meant, she maybe referred to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration once.

Towards the end of January, Invent Health will host an event that will provide a way for some members of the Maker movement and also give a sense of the regulatory impediments to a broader roll out of products, according to its website