Residents could be the ideal med-tech innovators but almost always fail to realize their ideas.
Residents in medicine rotate through multiple fields within their specialties and are eager to learn new approaches, while often mentally challenging the status quo. They are the frontline in patient care. They see the complications and hear the complaints, which makes for a fertile ground of endless needs assessments. It is this broad exposure and openness to change that uniquely enables residents to invent and innovate. Yet, residents have very little surplus time and energy to pursue an interest beyond one’s chosen field of medicine, despite the fact that hours are now limited to 80 per week. Furthermore, important aspects for being successful in the medical technology space, such as economics and business, are not included in the medical school curriculum. Unless industry experience is gained before medical school, it is unlikely that a resident will have the required skills to bring a device idea to fruition.
The pediatric field has a complicated relationship with medical technology. The entry of new technologies into this market is hindered by a small market, limited reimbursement and a restrictive approval processes. A lack of awareness of the breadth of benefits of medical technologies can also pose a challenge. Many pediatricians hear the words “medical technology” and think of a VP-shunted, G-tube dependent and trached child. The reality is that medical technology plays an ever-changing role in all aspects of medical care. From surveillance devices, such as blood pressure monitors, to minimally invasive items, such as LP needles, medical innovations and device ideas have a place across the wide continuum of care. Tailored technology can make care for pediatric patients easier and, over time, more affordable.
As a result of this complex relationship and the above mentioned struggles, it is regrettable that innovation is hindered by inadequate mentoring and support for these creative cash cows. Yet, there are organizations able to provide the support needed. I have found mentorship with the New England Pediatric Device Consortium (NEPDC) in a newly minted resident fellowship.
Working with the NEPDC allows me to leverage my unique position as a pediatrics resident to evaluate and create medical technologies for this underserved field. My first collaboration with the NEPDC was as a reviewer of the medical content of incoming grant applications. Through this role, I developed an understanding of the attributes that make a device proposal competitive: pediatric need, ease of introduction and market size, financial sustainability and team composition. With the support of my residency program at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, I recently joined the NEPDC as a Resident Fellow. This new Resident Fellow Program offers a unique opportunity to engage with key partners in the medical technology field, namely businesspeople and engineers. I now spend half a day per week working with business and engineering experts at Simbex, a bio-mechanical engineering company and NEPDC partner. Incoming applications for NEPDC grants are actively discussed by the team and by participating in these discussions, I’m building my business acumen, gaining feedback on my own ideas, and offering my understanding of the medical world to the team. In my primary role as a pediatric resident at the Children’s Hospital, I’m a resource to faculty and other residents who are interested in this aspect of medicine, but may lack the background knowledge needed to commercialize a medical device.
By connecting resident innovators with mentors in industry, the NEPDC Resident Fellowship is enabling residents like myself to realize our ideas and ensure a pipeline of future device innovations in the pediatric field.
Written by Urs Naber, MD, 2016 NEPDC Resident Fellow