Innovation Acceleration Program: From Concept to Creation
With an average of 120 new inventions disclosed and nearly 100 patents filed by Boston Children’s Hospital every year, there is clearly no shortage of creative thinking on the hospital campus.
But who knows how many additional great ideas may be perking away in the fertile and prolific minds of Boston Children's staff that never see the light of day? Boston Children's new Innovation Acceleration Program (IAP) is bringing those ideas into the light and bridging the gap between concept and creation.
Launched last summer with the arrival of Naomi Fried, PhD, Boston Children’s first chief innovation officer, the IAP is charged with removing obstacles to innovation and fostering a culture where hospital scientists, inventors and innovators can cross the boundaries of their siloed laboratories and departments to exchange ideas about new devices, clinical processes, and business models—all with the goal of improving children's health and the delivery of care.
The program and the resources devoted to it underscore the importance Boston Children's leadership is placing on innovation as critical to Children's mission and business strategy. According to Pedro del Nido, MD, IAP medical advisor and chief of Cardiac Surgery, "Our ability to maintain a leadership position in healthcare in this country and beyond rests on our ability to innovate—on the clinical side and in all aspects of hospital activities, especially service, outcomes and efficiency."
To nurture the innovation process, Fried and her team have designed two key efforts to bring together experts who may not otherwise cross paths or hear of one another's research or clinical work. In October, the IAP held its first Innovators' Forum, a monthly meeting open to anyone at Boston Children's interested in clinical innovation. The meetings provide an opportunity for innovators to present their ideas or inventions and solicit feedback from colleagues. To further bridge the silos, in mid-March the IAP will pilot SPARC (Social Platform for Accelerating Resources and Connections), an online forum designed to strengthen communications and collaboration within and between Boston Children's teams or departments—and ultimately, outside collaborators. Users will be able to build a profile tagged with key words that describe their work and interests, which will allow others with the same interest to seek out their expertise or resources.
For example, a laboratory-based geneticist working on Fragile X, the most common known cause of inherited intellectual disability, could find the stem cell researcher who has a Fragile X stem cell line, who may not know that a physician has patients in clinic who would love to participate in Fragile X clinical research. The platform would allow all those interested in Fragile X to form a network, share documents, create wikis and blogs, and have a full virtual collaboration.
Another major hurdle to innovation addressed by the IAP is the lack of seed funding to move an idea from a plan to implementation. In January, the IAP awarded its first round of Innovestment Grants, which provide funding of up to $15,000 to support clinical innovations in patient care whose impact can be demonstrated within a year. From a pool of 22 applicants, the IAP funded eight projects. "The beauty of these small grants is that they fund ideas that are too simple for an NIH or SBIR grant, but can still make a significant difference in patient care," says awardee Joseph Madsen, MD, who, with fellow neurosurgeon, Mark Proctor, MD, and plastic surgeon John Meara, MD, DMD, MBA, is using the funds to create a web-based initiative to change the care path of children with plagiocephaly (a flattened head in newborns from sleeping on their back). These patients are currently referred to a neurosurgeon or plastic surgeon for an appointment where the surgeon measures the child’s head and then refers them to the brace shop for a helmet fitting.
If the web approach is clinically validated, a pediatrician would refer the parents to the site where they will be instructed exactly how to photograph their child’s head with a cell phone camera and upload it to the site. Within 24 hours, the surgeon will let the family know if the child may go directly to the brace shop for the helmet or needs to be seen because the condition may be more serious. "This site will make a significant difference in the care of about 1,000 patients at Boston Children's per year," says Madsen. "Better, less expensive care."
A second IAP grant program, known as the FastTrack Innovation in Technology (FIT) Awards, provides software development for promising new initiatives in clinical care. FIT Awards support the development of a pilot solution or prototype within three months that can be piloted and evaluated within six months. Four of 19 projects were chosen and will receive the support of a project manager and a team of IAP-ISD software developers.
One of the IAP's most exciting initiatives is its Telehealth Program. Telehealth is the process and system for delivering care to patients or consulting with referring physicians via teleconference and bio-metric technologies. For patients with chronic conditions that require repeated—though often brief—clinic visits, a clinician could "visit" the patient at home. Virtual consultations between physicians could allow a community hospital emergency department physician to consult with a Boston Children's specialist and avoid an expensive or inappropriate patient transfer.
"We're a mobilizing function," says Fried. "Our role is to enhance the innovation culture and provide resources that allow people to take risks and test new ideas. Not all the ideas will succeed, but we will learn something from all of them." And that will allow Boston Children’s to improve care delivery and continue to be a leader in child health.