Spectrum Health Innovations licenses five new products

October 3, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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In a large group of people, somebody is bound to have a good idea for a new product or new way of doing things.

Spectrum Health is essentially a large group of people — about 15,000 — and they have indeed been generating good ideas. Spectrum set up its own LLC to capture and develop those good ideas, with the result that, one year after it was organized, Spectrum Health Innovations has licensed five new products for marketing to the health care industry.

Kris White, vice president of innovation and patient affairs at Spectrum and head of Spectrum Health Innovations LLC, said the new division already has been granted one patent on a new design for a trauma basin that was the brainchild of a Spectrum surgical technician. The basin effectively captures all of the blood and debris when a trauma victim's wounds are being cleaned prior to surgery.

"It was our very first patent that we had fully executed," said White. But more are anticipated, such as the intubation device invented by Dr. Dave Rosenthal, a Spectrum anesthesiologist. The device guides the intubation process, allowing the tube to be inserted in a patient "in absolutely the correct spot," said White.

Both devices have been licensed for manufacture and sale by other private companies in West Michigan.

Another device, proposed and developed by members of the Spectrum operations department, hooks under a bed and securely suspends tubes and cords that would otherwise be on the floor. A couple of other innovations are "IT solutions," White said, that Spectrum's IT vendors have been licensed to offer to their other clients.

"We have probably nine more that we have ready," she said. "We're trying to find the right partner to take them to market."

The intent behind the creation of Spectrum Health Innovations "is to harvest and house the intellectual property in the organization, and develop a commercial plan to get them into the market," said White.

A few years ago, Spectrum organized an in-house campaign called What I.F. that was headed by White and eventually led to the establishment of Spectrum Health Innovations.

"We really began by building a culture around our entire work force, asking them questions about how can we do things better and maybe in ways that have never been tried before," said White. So the word went out that Spectrum employees and physicians associated with Spectrum could come forth with their pet ideas, and others could begin by thinking of some challenge in their work and then asking themselves "what if …"

The I.F. in What I.F. stands for innovation funding.

"I wanted people to know that we would be willing to invest dollars and time and talent into these ideas, if we felt they had merit. I didn't want them to think this was just some suggestion program. This was a real process to explore brand new ways of delivering care," she said.

So Spectrum Health Innovations became "a place where anybody with an idea can come," said White, who has been with Spectrum 26 years, the first 15 working as an R.N. "I don't care if they are physicians, I don't care if they are maintenance workers — anybody who thinks they have a better mousetrap, we want to provide them the opportunity to explore it and test it. And if it is (better) — then we should do it."

Not everything Spectrum Health Innovations does is geared toward products or processes that can be sold. Even before the new division was set up as an LLC, there was a Spectrum Health Innovation Lab where ideas were being tested, and that was where MedWise originated. It is a method of reducing waste that can save patients an immense amount of money and has been publicized for use by other hospitals across the nation.

As reported in Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare Magazine, two RNs and a pharmacist at Spectrum volunteered to work on the problem of wasted medications. Some patients, particularly those covered under Medicare, are admitted for observation for a day or two, and while hospitalized, they are provided with medications, inhalers and ointments. However, when discharged, the patient was not allowed to take those meds home, due to federal regulations.

"Our team saw a tremendous amount of waste, saw patients having to refill (prescriptions) that had already been paid for once with their hospitalization," said White. In fact, the team documented that the value of such discarded medications at Spectrum Health facilities was hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

The team did extensive research and worked with legal experts to determine that patients could be allowed to take inpatient meds home with them if the products were properly labeled and met other legal requirements.

For those commercialized products that eventually will bring in revenue to Spectrum Health Innovations, White said it will probably be used to fund further innovation.

"Frankly, our goal is to be the national leader in health care. You get there by creating the future," said White.

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