The automobile, software and telecommunications industries actively practice open innovation — and have for quite some time. It makes sense, then, that the healthcare design industry follow suit, particularly now that the Affordable Care Act continues to bring new challenges to a fast-evolving U.S. healthcare system and the need for medical technology design innovation continues to grow.

Generally speaking, in the healthcare field, open innovation is used to identify new ideas, inventions and products in the medical industry that can improve patient care and lower day-to-day costs. In contrast to traditional startup accelerators and incubators, open innovation platforms create an environment where working professionals can submit an idea in its earliest form by allowing the most valuable ideas to be identified, patented, funded and developed.

How does an open innovation platform generally work? Companies that use this platform — such as Unilever Global, Samsung, and Edison Nation Medical — call on inventors to confidentially submit their ideas to teams of experienced evaluators, legal professionals and commercialization experts. These companies have a variety of means through which an invention idea can be commercialized, including start-up accelerators or incubation models — both of which provide access to mentors, decision-makers and global distribution — or, in the case of Edison Nation Medical, through the licensing or incubation of top ideas and the sharing of any subsequent revenues the company is able to generate from these activities.

Medical design engineers, more than many groups in the technology field, are uniquely poised to be innovative problem-solvers — not only are they aware of cutting edge technologies, but they have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the design industry at large. Thus, they are well-suited to identify common medical device challenges, and they can come up with practical medical design solutions that are both user-friendly and cutting edge — so why don’t more design engineers pursue their own innovative ideas?

One word: Time. For medical design engineers, bringing an invention to life may seem impossible. They are increasingly time-pressed, and devoting a serious amount of time to creating, developing and marketing a new medical innovation will, and should, take a backseat to their day-to-day responsibilities. But what if there was a way for these full-time medical design engineers to keep their full-time jobs while they explore new, innovative ideas? Open innovation can give them opportunity to see their idea through to fruition while still keeping their day job.

The goal and purpose of open innovation is to build an environment where individuals and organizations can collaborate to achieve mutually beneficial solutions. In this setting, potential innovators receive efficacy evaluation and product development support along with financial backing, all without the risk of having an idea stolen or personal capital lost. With this platform, medical design engineers will have the resources and information needed to bring their ideas to life.

In the design community, open innovation can help catapult professionals with the best understanding of a problem to actually empower them to create a solution — and the need is truly great. For all the high-tech tools that are available today, healthcare companies still tend to rely on outdated technologies on the administrative side, which can slow down innovation. Bridging this technology gap won’t be without significant cost, effort, and commitment on the part of healthcare systems – a task not every organization will be willing or able to tackle. But open innovation platforms may be able to provide that missing link.

For engineers looking to get creative when it comes to solving the medical industry’s day-to-day problems, open innovation spurs new and interesting product conversations. And by broadening an organization’s idea search — whether it be from a hospital or a design firm — there are always opportunities for organizational improvements. With free-flowing innovation, the healthcare industry will stay competitive and agile, as their research and development cycle is shortened and their technology gap closed. Through open-innovation, the healthcare industry can pave the road ahead.


Entries Open: Establish your company as a technology leader. For 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards, widely recognized as the “Oscars of Invention,” have showcased products of technological significance. Learn more.