COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The inventions range from a high-tech 3-D joint scanner to a low-tech yet highly sanitary toilet-seat lifter, and the inventors range from a top-flight surgeon to a part-time shuttle-bus driver.
But in the end, the result is the same at the OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute: "This is a benefit to the community," said John Niles, director of the institute.
The institute takes employee ideas and puts them to work, building on research and innovation activities that are conducted at OhioHealth hospitals, which include Riverside Methodist and Grant Medical Center in Columbus.
In the past few years, 75 physicians, nurses and employees have brought in more than 130 new product concepts to OhioHealth's program. Out of those concepts, 11 new companies have been formed and seven products are in clinical use. Other products are in varying degrees of development and commercialization.
In most cases, "We start with the end user of the product," said Patricia Eisendhardt, the manager of commercialization at the institute.
"They've recognized some unmet need and come to us, asking, 'Could I do something to meet this need?'??"
Such was the case when orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ray Wasielewski at Grant Medical Center realized there was a need for a quick, easy and noninvasive way of gaining 3-D images of knees without using radiation.
Wasielewski -- "one of our rock star clinician innovators," Niles said -- knew that other doctors had long wanted a device to fill that need, but up until a few years ago lacked either the technology, data or software to create it.
"I think the 'eureka moment' was when I realized we now have all the parts to create the technology," Wasielewski said.
His JointVue allows a doctor or technician to wave a wand-like electromagnetic tracker to create a 3-D image of a knee on a video screen. An accessory will allow a technician to watch in real time as a needle is inserted into the knee.
JointVue, which is primarily a computer software program that can be applied to essentially any standard ultrasound equipment, is currently in clinical use at Grant but not yet for sale on the market.
Not every invention comes from health care professionals.
In one case, nurse manager Tabitha Campbell, who works at Grant, noticed that it was difficult to move orthopedic patients in traction because the frames were attached to the bed.
Campbell worked with design and construction project manager Chris Lagana to develop a traction frame that attaches to the ceiling. The device -- dubbed an "overbed trapeze" -- is now installed in 45 rooms at the Grant Medical Center Bone and Joint Center.
In another case, Eisendhardt found that one of OhioHealth's part-time shuttle van drivers, retired Columbus schools music teacher Steve Foster, had come up with a clever idea for a toilet seat lid lifter.
"In two minutes' time, she asked all the right questions," Foster said. "What had I done with it? When did I develop it? How did I develop it?"
The conversation was fulfilling, Foster said.
Foster's invention is an example of how "little things can make a big difference in patient experience," Eisendhardt said. "We believe business value will follow."
In addition to its use in clinical settings, Foster's invention is now available for consumer use at home and is available via its website, www.Sanasafe.com. He declined to say how much money he is making on the product.
OhioHealth's Research and Innovation Institute, formed in 2006, allows any of the health care system's physicians, nurses or other employees to bring their product ideas to life. OhioHealth doesn't make money from the inventions, and officials said that they don't have profit figures from the companies.
Here's how it works:
Someone with an idea calls or emails the institute's commercialization office to set up an appointment. After filling out a questionnaire, the inventor-to-be meets with the office.
At the introductory meeting, the office gathers information to develop a commercialization plan.
The plan includes the evaluation phase (market research, technical review, patent assistance), which can take as long as four months; and the navigation phase (fundraising, prototyping and business incubation), which can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.
Next is project implementation. The institute can help with commercialization, or can turn it over to a third party, depending on the needs of the project.
The maximum number of projects hasn't been established, but the institute can currently handle more than 30 new ideas per year on top of existing or ongoing projects.
The institute represents a departure from traditional research institutions on two scores. First, it doesn't look to researchers funded by grants for its ideas. Second, it takes a different approach to ownership of the ideas it acts on. While other groups keep commercial rights to inventions, Niles said, "We give full ownership to the inventor, and we work with the inventor to determine if the idea has commercial merit."
In return, OhioHealth simply asks that the inventors put their work to use in its medical institutions.
"It's fair to say that it's the only institution we've come across that is doing this," said Will Indest, vice president of venture development at TechColumbus. "It's pretty unique. It was pretty insightful of management at OhioHealth to put this together."
Such a reversal of the usual procedure initially surprised some OhioHealth staff, but soon energized them.
"When they came up with this idea, I was kind of suspicious, to tell you the truth," said Dr. Gary Ansel, a cardiologist at Riverside hospital who has developed several ideas for inventions.
"I can tell you, with any device and patent (application) you'll talk to a panel and everyone will be positive," Ansel said, "but at the end of the day, someone is making a lot of money and you make very little. There's never been an easy way to go through the sharks and not get eaten up."
So when Ansel brought a couple of ideas to the institute for initial discussions he was impressed -- even when the panel found his first idea had problems.
"The panel vetted it and figured you couldn't protect the intellectual property," he said. "So instead of spending $30,000 of my own money doing a patent search, this way we had a panel of experts who were able to say, 'That's not worth it.'??"
The second idea fared better.
"(The institute's vetting panel) said, 'It's a great one. We've run it through patent searches, and we think it's protectable.' So, it's been great, ... and it keeps it in Columbus, and hopefully creates jobs here."
To support the commercialization of such inventions, the program has been part of TechColumbus' startup accelerator program, TechStars Network, from the beginning, said Tim Haynes, interim president and CEO of TechColumbus.
"They really dove in all the way," Haynes said. "They saw a real opportunity to tap into the creativity of their doctors, especially those who have that mindset to think creatively and innovatively to improve patient care."