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Innovation: don’t be afraid to fail

“If things are not failing you are not innovating”. This famous quote by Elon Musk - renowned entrepreneur and founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla - recognises that whilst failure tends to have negative connotations, it is also a key part of the journey to success.

This is important when encouraging a culture of innovation. Inspiring confidence and removing fear of failure is essential to motivate health and social care professionals to come forward with new ideas. As NHS Scotland adapts in response to COVID-19, this is more important than ever.

However generating new, innovative ideas; and accelerating development and adoption does not, and should not, always lead to success. Fortunately, the team at SHIL are well experienced in the highs and lows of bringing an innovation to market. Sometimes ideas will fail, sometimes they will need adapted and sometimes they will succeed – this is all part of the innovation journey. 

In this issue of Behind the Scenes we explore the process at SHIL to ensure the most promising innovations are supported, developed and brought to market.

Encouraging and supporting ideas

Ideas should be treated as good ideas until proven otherwise. Innovation is created by encouraging people to speak up, to push the boundaries, think outside the box and explore new ways of doing things. The potential of an idea should not be stifled by lack of time or support. So at SHIL we aim to make the process quick and easy:

  • The process takes 5 – 10 minutes to complete, capturing contact information, general field of medicine, summary, advantages, overview of the market, requirement for technical expertise
  • A single submission form open to all health and social care professionals across Scotland –
  • A range of resources to read before submission includes Innovation Pathway, Inventor Guide, and How to Submit

Whilst the process is simple, not all ideas are accepted. Only around 10% of submitted ideas are accepted. An initial ‘rapid review’ evaluation considers current practice, features and benefits, existing evidence, IP position, market assessment and routes to market.


Minimising Risk

If a project is taken forward it will move to a more detailed evaluation considering IP, regulatory requirements, technology assessment, review of competition and pricing, resource requirements and clinical evaluation. This is a thorough review to ensure the idea has the potential to improve patient care, is technically and commercially viable and any risks too investing in the project are minimised – this applies to time and funding.

The evolution of an idea

There are many ups and downs when it comes to product development, and it’s usual for an idea to evolve during the development process. Bringing a product to market involves many stakeholders, and depending on the nature of the project the team at SHIL will source the most appropriate organisations and suppliers. This could range from product or software developers to manufacturers and packaging companies. Bringing together this wealth of expertise can highlight previously unforeseen challenges, allow for new perspectives and a joint approach to overcoming the inevitable hurdles.

Many innovations supported by SHIL have changed direction throughout the process. Whilst challenging it has resulted in better solutions being launched onto the market.

  • The Patient Repositioning Device (currently being prepared for launch) was originally designed to be a mattress, segmented in parts that would move (via air or mechanical pressure) in order to turn the patient. During the design and development phase, the practical and economic implications of such a feature were found to be challenging. Rather than viewing this as a failure and the end of the project, by working closely with the inventor, an NHS Lothian community nurse, and commercial partner Silvalea, a change in direction was taken and the concept evolved to the mattress topper solution that will now be brought to market. Prototypes have been tested, and the combination of the inventors first-hand experience of carrying out the manoeuvres with Silvalea’s expertise in the manufacture of in-situ patient transfer slings, has enabled the team to overcome challenges, address the failure of some proposed elements and evolve the idea to be both practical, financially viable and ultimately improve patient care.
  • Clear Surgical, set up in 2013 as a spin-out from SHIL and NHS Ayrshire and Arran is a medical device company developing innovative solutions to surgical problems. One of the products (the illuminated retractor) started life looking quite different to the OpLight™ solution now available today. The original concept was a fibre optic cable to put a light source into the surgical cavity. While the concept was good, through development this evolved into a light source integrated into the paddles of a polymer-based retractor. This was a better solution as it had no trailing cable and made the surgical field less cluttered. However it took two further iterations to meet specific market needs and account for evolving technology. The product available today offers single use sterile disposable light cartridges that can attach to all flat bladed retractors to illuminate the surgical cavity without overhead shadowing.

Ready for launch

Whilst each of the stages can seem daunting, and require energy, enthusiasm and commitment, to reach the stage of market launch; this is a supportive, collaborative process. SHIL know time pressures can be one of the biggest barriers to bringing an idea or innovation forward and therefore a dedicated Project Manager is allocated to each project. They take care of the day-to-day management of the project and all associated stages – regulatory approvals, funding, licencing, and partner liaison.

So with the comfort of knowing the support, and processes, that underpin the work of SHIL in supporting innovation; health and social care professionals are truly encouraged to think ‘What if…’, ‘If only…’, ‘I wish…’; as they go about their tasks. Look for the areas of improvement, where things could be better and what a potential solution might be. It could be simple – think of Rhinopinch®, a simple clip to staunch nosebleeds; it could be complex and not all the answers may be available. However the idea and the first-hand knowledge of working in the situation is the critical point. So don’t be afraid to submit the idea – only by engaging in a culture of innovative thinking and continuous improvement can new ways to improve patient care be identified.  

If you have an idea that could improve patient care? Get in touch and submit your idea.

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