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Necessity Is the Mother of Invention in Healthcare, Too

August 29, 2014
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An interview with Bobby Grajewski, president of Edison Nation Medical

In the last few years, health systems have shown a strong interest in fostering innovation among their own employees and partnering with startups and apps developers. And healthcare startup incubators are cropping up across the country. One system that has doubled down on these efforts is Carolinas HealthCare System, which has a network of more than 900 care locations includes academic medical centers, hospitals, physician practices, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, and nursing homes in North Carolina and South Carolina. In 2012, it partnered with Edison Nation, which had a track record of working to commercialize inventions in the consumer space, to form Edison Nation Medical, based in Charlotte, N.C.

Inventors submit ideas through a secure online portal, and they are vetted through a multi-step review process. The goal is to license each qualified product idea to a medical manufacturer. When Edison Nation Medical is successful, it splits licensing royalties 50/50 with the inventor.

This week I had a chance to interview Bobby Grajewski, president of Edison Nation Medical, about its goals and its relationship with Carolinas HealthCare.

HCI: How did the partnership with Carolinas Healthcare come together? What were they looking for?

Grajewski: Edison National Medical was formed in 2012 out of a need. Carolinas Healthcare System wanted a pathway for its 60,000 employees to submit medical device ideas and inventions for review from a medical efficacy, intellectual property, and commercialization perspective, and they wanted a pathway for those products to get into the marketplace. They were good at delivering care, but they weren’t so good at all the management and heavy lifting involved with reviewing an idea from a sketch on the back of a napkin to a fully developed product.

So they did a nationwide search looking for a group to help them. Edison Nation, which was local and had a 10-year track record of doing this in the consumer space and some successful medical-related products, was chosen. What Edison Nation brings to the table is our deep expertise in intellectual property and commercialization and deep networks in manufacturing on the consumer side and in the medical device arena. What Carolinas Healthcare brings to the table is their medical efficacy expertise, their access to medical experts to review products. Their 45 hospitals provide a ripe area to test and trial those products, with the best products often being adopted by them as an early customer.

Bobby Grajewski

HCI: Are the people reviewing ideas all or mostly from Carolinas HealthCare?

Grajewski: On the medical efficacy side, we have 300 medical experts we can rely on, and the vast majority are Carolinas-related. On the intellectual property and legal side, that is done internally and with outsourced experts. On the business development side, that is done internally and through consultants across the country looking for opportunities and building relationships.

HCI: Across the industry we are seeing more cases of hospitals creating chief innovation officer positions and innovation centers and more healthcare startup incubators. Are you noticing a change in mindset about innovation? If so, what is causing it?

Grajewski: The first thing is the Affordable Care Act. The changes to the ecosystem got healthcare systems to open their eyes to the future. The second thing involves software improvements, including big data and the cloud, that are helping deliver information faster, better and cheaper than ever before. That has been tremendous in allowing new models to come into existence, focusing around the consumer-centric care model. Finally, aging demographics and greater demands on the system combined with reductions in reimbursement have put a laser focus on cost reductions. That is driving innovation. You can squeeze vendors and cut on prices only so much. You eventually have to start figuring out processes, systems and products that can be doing things more efficiently, so I think for the first time there is this a tremendous focus on innovation.

HCI: Although Carolinas HealthCare was interested in establishing this for its employee innovations, anyone can participate, correct?

Grajewski: In the first two years we have received 3,000 medical innovations from over 100 different countries. Carolinas wanted their employees to be the initial backbone, but they also want this to be a pathway for ideas and a place where those ideas get tested and become the new standard of care.

HCI: Does Carolinas make itself available to be a test bed for new products?

Grajewski: They do, but they are not the only ones. We are also building out relationships with other healthcare systems around the country.

HCI: If I am an employee of a health system or an academic medical center and have an idea, would my employer necessarily be open to me working with Edison Nation Medical or would they see that invention as their intellectual property?