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Imagine having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
This the promise and reality of healthcare simulation technology (and related patents) which I explored during my recent keynote address to The Gathering of Healthcare Simulation Technology Specialists (SimGHOSTS).
The non-profit is highly regarded among healthcare professionals who prize its commitment to patient safety and medical simulation innovation inside an industry sector that is on the cutting-edge of technology.
In a nutshell, simulation technology allows medical practitioners to hone and perfect their craft on simulation software prior to operating on a patient (or scanning the human body during complex procedures like ultrasound and MRI).
It also encompasses exciting new experiential paradigms like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
Healthcare Inventors Have Upper Hand
The auditorium was filled with medical entrepreneurs who wanted to understand the significance of the U.S. patent system switching to a “first to file” system and how how that puts a premium on inventors moving QUICKLY to secure a patent filing ASAP.
In the last few years this new framework has accelerated patent success for healthcare inventors especially in the arena of training simulators.
Case Study: Ocular Ultrasound Patent Presages Commercial Success
In fact, one of the breakout success stories of the year has been the progress made in ocular ultrasound by a group of researchers who have developed simulation technology that mimics live tissue.
The common skills required for oculus ultrasound have often been overlooked in the past but gaining renewed interest with the unveiling of The Ocular Ultrasound Training Simulator (OUTS). The medical software currently has a patent pending and accepting licensees to help manufacture and develop it.
The simulator is the brainchild of an emergency medicine physician with background in healthcare simulation and biomedical engineering. Kelly Stanko, MD, along with fellow inventors, Yixing Chen, MPH, and Dan Brainard were winners of the SimGHOSTS best innovation showcase for their method of 3D printing an eye model. It’s also capable of producing realistic and anatomically true images when examined using ultrasound.
The inventors intrinsically understood the need for an early intellectual property audit, despite the excitement, time and energy associated with overcoming technical obstacles in prototyping the simulation technology.
The new “first to file” model allowed them to file quickly without requiring a prototype. Earlier medical entrepreneurs like my client Alex Gomez, inventor of an surgical anti-fogging device, had a much more laborious challenge getting their idea patented under the “first to invent” model.
Our patent law firm had to work within the confines of this legacy framework to get his idea across the finish line. While we were successful, he would have had a much smoother path under today’s “first to file” model.
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I also explained to my audience that leaving the evaluation of patentable subject matter – including simulation hardware & software – until the very end of the inventor journey is a recipe for failure. Medical inventors are often dismayed to discover that all of the time and money invested in creating their solution may be rendered worthless because someone already filed a patent first and therefore owns rights to the intellectual property.
Fortunately, the OUTS team of inventors seem destined to profit from their protected idea which is undoubtedly unique and commercially viable.
The novel utility patent includes some notable features including, but not limited to:
The Blueprint For Medical Innovators
The success of the OUTS team is a blueprint for other medical inventors to follow, especially considering the current interest in this field, including immersive simulation centers.
Level 3 Healthcare, which sponsored my keynote address, is part of the healthcare simulation revolution. It offers turnkey simulation technology including the SIMStation, which bridges the divide between healthcare staff shortages and training.
“The shortage of nursing instructors is one reason why nursing schools are being forced to turn down qualified applicants. Our simulation training can replace clinical training in many instances,” said the company.
Other examples, too, reflect the HOT interest in this field. General Electric (GE) recently reported that ultrasound sonologist students could soon be using Augmented Reality (AR) to learn medical techniques.
An earlier VScan ultrasound machine was patented several years ago by inventor Guy Vesto under the GE umbrella. The patent described a virtual emergency medical record (vEMR) dynamically generated for a patient treated by emergency medical services staff. It’s been put in the hands of medical professionals in far-flung hospitals across the globe.
However, along with this new technology came a deficit in operating skills, with mistakes leading to repeat visits.
In response, GE turned towards Microsoft and it’s HoloLens technology to give ultrasound sonologists an “edge”. According to the medical behemoth, they have programmed the AR lenses to work in conjunction with a scanner.
“When a trainee wears the glasses, she can see on a dummy where a typical human’s organs are located and what they look like as the sonogram wand moves over the body,” said GE.
And, just to illustrate how dynamic and quickly this “self-learning” field is changing, it has been reported that Microsoft may in the future be pivoting its patented HoloLens headgear towards a sleeker and abbreviated version that resembles eye or sunglasses rather than an entire head mount.
On a side note, I envisage a future day when another one of my clients, Valerie Carbone, who invented EyeBandz® may in the future acquire additional patents to evolve her product into a type of HoloLens product (or augment the glasses with new AR capability).
In another example, 3D systems has pioneered a VR ultrasound training solution that it claims provides an immersive, fun and affordable training experience.
Patents Offset Risk & Amplify Reward
Consequently, my keynote address to SimGHOSTS confirmed the complex intersection of technology, risk and opportunity that exists for medical practitioners in the healthcare simulation arena and what I call The Golden Age of Inventing.
With new advances in scanning technology and robotized surgery comes risk:
How to use this new technology without putting patients in harm’s way.
Research indicates that up to 30% of surgical graduates are unable to operate independently.
“Furthermore, surgeons out in practice have less time to perform the nearly 100 cases required to safely use each of today’s complex techniques and devices,” reports Robotics Tomorrow.
With this risk and training shortfall comes opportunity.
New systems likes OUTS mentioned earlier, leverage the underlying patents to commercialize technology and extract licensing fees for inventors.
Simultaneously, it offers elegant new ways to train medical professionals quickly and safely using simulation.
Add in the monumental advances in AR, VR and artificial intelligence and we are slowly moving towards unified simulation systems that gives us the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
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