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How Cleveland Clinic Innovates: Part Two

by Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed., August 2, 2019

Last week we described the infrastructure that supports innovation at Cleveland Clinic, and some of the pathways that are open to scientists. This week we elaborate on the culture of innovation at this institution.

Joseph Iannotti, M.D., Ph.D., the first Chief Innovation Officer at Cleveland Clinic Florida, explains, “Cleveland Clinic takes pride in placing a very high value on promoting innovation from all of its caregivers. Innovation occurs in the treatments we provide and how we deliver the care to our patients. We reward, encourage and celebrate those individuals and groups that advance health care through innovation.”

Joseph P. Iannotti M.D., Ph.D.,

Walking the talk…

“Because we know that innovation requires substantial resources and varied skills, Cleveland Clinic encourages innovation through collaboration both within our Institution as well as with other organizations and with the healthcare industry. The Clinic is able to share the benefits of the innovation that comes from these collaborations with the inventors and their partners. This culture promotes individuals and groups to consider new technologies and new discoveries and how they might be translated to products or processes. We publicize innovation, we reward innovation, and we promote it.”

And they develop it from within. “Most department chairs have the requisite skillset to cultivate innovation and product development,” says Dr. Iannotti, “so they are able to mentor less experienced caregivers as they move through these processes. We have innovation newsletters, as well as annual awards that recognize notable achievements that bring new treatments to the bedside. Our annual innovation summit draws roughly 2,000 people from all over the world.”

“The Orthopaedic Department at Cleveland Clinic,” says Dr. Iannotti has had its share of new technology that has changed clinical care. A research and development engineer embedded within the Department was charged to go to the surgeon’s offices, research labs and operating rooms to understand the areas of greatest need and to help those surgeons find solutions to improve care. In addition, this process led to a joint effort between one of our orthopaedic surgeons and one of our cardiac surgeons to design a new sternal plate for cardiac surgery.”

90 companies and counting…

Describing the innovation activities in Cleveland as “a well-oiled machine,” Dr. Iannotti notes, “Cleveland Clinic Innovations, based in Ohio but expanding into Florida, has numerous groups that address, among other things, devices, pharmabiologics, IT healthcare delivery, etc. Those verticals each have specialists in them that know the market.  There is also a team of patent attorneys for protection of IP, as well as a variety of engineers who are able to build prototypes, test them, and link up with our biomedical research infrastructure. To date there have been 90 spinoff companies from the Cleveland Clinic.”

There’s a bot for that…

Pete O’Neill, the Executive Director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations states, “Here in Cleveland we have a team of 50 people who are dedicated to helping translate the inventions and insights of Cleveland Clinic employees. We work on insights from across our full enterprise, including hospital operations, supply chain personnel, etc.; there is opportunity to innovate across all of healthcare. In the event that external partners have the right expertise to help advance solutions, we work to identify them and are very open to working with those groups.”

Peter O’Neill

The philosophy, says O’Neill, is that if it is needed at Cleveland Clinic then it is probably needed in the broader marketplace. “For example, we reached out to a company in Silicon Valley in order to further our goal to improve patient engagement after discharge. Traditionally, patients do not return calls, and it is expensive to have a team of people calling patients. So, we thought, ‘Shoudn’t there be a bot or some kind of automatic system that follows up with people with some degree of intelligence?’”

“We found an external company that was able to work with us to create a solution. We have piloted the solution to over 3,000 patients and found that our follow-up rate went from 54% to over 80%! The product we co-developed is an automatic texting system that understands and responds with enough intelligence that it can determine if a follow-up call is needed from a human being. It uses an algorithm to understand different types of responses, essentially moving someone down a flow chart. The alternative is to have nurses spending their time tracking patients down. But thanks to this bot and the series of questions it uses to draw information out of patients—and ensure that they are faring well—that nursing time can be utilized in better ways.”

The Cleveland Clinic way…

“When inventors submit an invention disclosure, we undertake an assessment in four categories: patentability, market size, clinical relevance, and value. This last category is increasingly influencing the way Cleveland Clinic makes purchasing decisions, essentially helping focus us on ideas that we know maximize quality and outcomes while taking out costs.”

“Our innovation efforts are very intentional and well-resourced. We take an active role in identifying needs and mapping those against possible internal and external solutions. For example, Plug and Play is an international network of start-up scouts that scour the globe for promising companies. We began working with them because we liked that they participate in other verticals such as insurance and other consumer-related areas. Artificial Intelligence has many applications in healthcare, but it is also being used for the financial and insurance markets, self-driving cars, etc. The upshot is that we do not have to develop those technologies from scratch. A development in the automotive arena can be translated and applied to healthcare…and that is the fastest, most efficient way to get to a solution. Take, for example, the chatbot example I mentioned earlier. That company had products in other markets and we worked together to develop their technology to solve a healthcare need. Working with that company, we were able to create a solution much faster than we could have done alone.”

And if the artist doesn’t know how to sell the art?

Pete O’Neill: “We don’t want to limit our projects to things invented by rare individuals such as Drs. Iannotti and Barsoum. We want physician-inventors to know that it is truly fine to be a world-class physician and to just allow us to handle the commercialization. There will always be people who have a fuzzy idea of what they want, but struggle to coalesce their ideas into an actionable commercialization plan. We meet with them and say, ‘We can help you.’ This situation is akin to the artist who doesn’t know how to sell their art.”

Market realities interfere with Eureka!

And if the “art” doesn’t look like something that will sell? “When we have to say ‘no’ to a project,” states O’Neill, “it is often because someone has what he or she thinks is an invention, but their idea isn’t really new. So, step one is being familiar with what already has been publically disclosed. Often, people think, ‘My invention is not on the market, so that must mean it hasn’t been invented.’ The fact is, however, that a lot of patents never actually make it to the marketplace.”

“Projects may also be declined because the market is too small. Healthcare inventors are naturally focused on creating something that is clinically relevant, but they don’t always understand how things get reimbursed. So, while an inventor may indeed have an interesting new idea, in the eyes of the healthcare industry, it is viewed as additional cost.”

Pete O’Neill: “I am proud of the infrastructure we have built that allows clinicians and scientists to be motivated and successful in formulating new ideas and bringing them to fruition.”

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Elizabeth Hofheinz

Two time winner of the MORE award Ms. Hofheinz was the first writer employed by Orthopedics This Week. The MORE award is granted annually by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to recognize excellence in journalism. Ms. Hofheinz is currently the Director of Communications for Ortho Spine Partners (OSP) and resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her entrepreneur husband and delightful daughter.

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