When Raja-Elie Abdulnour, MD, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Center for Chest Diseases, started working as a physician, he realized that he would need to cut back on one of the other loves of his life: video games. Instead of playing after a day at work, he had to pursue CME credits in his free time. But what if he could combine the two?
Today, Abdulnour is the medical mind behind a role-playing virtual reality game that he describes as a “flight simulator for doctors.” He’s been working with the Brigham Innovation Hub on this program, which will enable clinicians to engage in virtual patient video scenarios.
The Brigham Innovation Hub was created for just this reason – to give BWH employees a way to take their most innovative thoughts from ideation to fruition. Acting as part incubator, part advisory board and part events office, the Brigham Innovation Hub was designed to connect smart clinicians like Abdulnour to business and engineering resources.
“We work at the early stage of clinician ideas,” Pothik Chatterjee, Manager of Innovation Strategy and Ventures for the Brigham Innovation Hub, says. “We assess the pain points, look at how they became inspired, then concretize those milestones to accelerate ideas into commercialization.”
Another success story from the Brigham Innovation Hub is Sophia Koo, a BWH infectious disease physician who wanted to develop a technology that could look at a patient’s breath and determine disease. Koo was able to acquire NIH funding to prove that a device like this could work. She collaborated with Draper Laboratory to develop a prototype of the breathalyzer, too, but then she came to the Brigham Innovation Hub’s director, Lesley Solomon, to ask for advice. What should she do next?
What followed is now a common occurrence at the Brigham Innovation Hub: Solomon advised Koo about business opportunities, direction and bringing her product to patients faster. Now Koo has her own company and she continues to work on the device (which she hopes can be used for 10 different infectious diseases with the burgeoning potential of identifying Pneumonia, too).
These kinds of ideas come from everywhere across the hospital, Chatterjee says – from Idea Labs, from Idea Share submissions to the Innovation Hub website, and from one-on-one meetings with physicians. The Innovation Hub’s main goal is to provide resources and support clinical innovators. “We look at the idea, talk to them about it and do research about the commercial potential,” Chatterjee explains. “Then we provide resources like our engineering council, and matchmaking events with the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and 3D printing companies. We also connect them with our network of experts spanning across industry, angel investors, VC and legal resources.”
As the Innovation Hub grows in 2015, they’ll focus their energies on several acceleration events in particular. Their Idea Labs, which include 90-minute brainstorming sessions once or twice per month, bring together clinicians from across the hospital to brainstorm around a certain theme. Their first event, on January 12, 2015, was focused on patient engagement. Following several short presentations, participants worked as small groups to come up with one to three solutions for each presented problem. “Then we follow up with focused support on high-potential ideas,” Chatterjee explains. “It’s like a mini hackathon, but narrower and more specific, and it gives physicians flexibility to participate.”
The Hub will also run collaboration nights and innovation series on a variety of topics this year, as well as a hackathon and live pitch-off events. In 2015, Chatterjee says the Innovation Hub is exploring, like the rest of the healthcare scene, the growing importance of digital health. “We want to connect clinicians and actual pain points to new technologies and tools – bridging the big gap,” he says.
Beyond this, Chatterjee notes that many hospitals are creating these sorts of initiatives, bringing clinical experts together with engineers and business-savvy CEOs. The Brigham Innovation Hub will collaborate with these other organizations – like Boston Children’s and athenahealth – to create even more value. Chatterjee also says this disruptive work is incredibly worthwhile and something that should be happening in every organization. “These clinicians face so many competing pressures and priorities, being at a leading academic medical center – but they’re excited to innovate and devote their time and energy to these projects,” he says. “In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen immense value.”
Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.
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