A tech innovation incubator inside the radiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital turns physicians into inventors.
Before Marc D. Succi, MD, joined Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as a radiology resident in July of 2015, he had already secured several patents and launched two startup companies, gaining valuable experience as an inventor and CEO. His entrepreneurial background made him the go-to invention expert at MGH, quickly revealing the hospital’s need for more robust innovation resources.
“I realized a tangible need existed for innovation training, because clinicians want to be innovative, but most don’t have the tools to bring their ideas to fruition,” says Succi.
After observing the struggles of creative physicians who didn’t know how to approach innovation, Succi developed plans for an in-house prototyping lab and entrepreneurship incubator designed to transform ideas into impactful inventions. He founded The Medically Engineered Solutions in Healthcare (MESH™) Incubator at MGH — the first innovation incubator and accompanying curriculum that is known to be integrated into a medical training program, in any specialty.
Before Succi could launch the incubator, he needed support from radiology leaders. So in February of 2016, he met with MGH’s radiology residency program directors and then with Radiologist-in-Chief James A. Brink, MD, FACR, to present his vision and business plan.
To outline the opportunity, Succi described how radiologists are well-positioned to drive innovation across the hospital. For this reason, Succi proposed building the invention incubator in the radiology department, where he could provide training, resources, and equipment to help radiologists and other physicians innovate. He envisioned a workshop equipped with prototyping tools, like microprocessors and 3-D printers, coupled with a hands-on curriculum and informational lecture series to empower radiologists and other physicians with the skills to turn their ideas into reality.
Succi explained that MESH would mentor physicians through the early stages of innovation. By the end of the training, participants would be ready to leverage their prototypes and early data to seek outside funding to develop their ideas further. With this educational goal, Succi noted that MESH would be a relatively lean start-up. He requested a five-figure investment to open the incubator and outlined a long-term vision that would get inventions to bedsides in five to 10 years.
While MESH’s profitability would take time, Succi emphasized that it would bring enduring value to the hospital and the profession. “It’s about training the future leaders of medicine to impact patient care and, in the process, branding radiology as the center of innovation, which elevates our value in the healthcare landscape,” Succi says.
“The idea of enabling non-engineers to use design principles to prototype potential inventions intrigued me,” says Brink. “Certainly, as patents are commercialized, we will earn future royalty revenue but we’re not looking at ROI from that perspective. It’s more important that we provide an outlet for our residents to develop new skills, so they can create tools to improve care.”
With Brink’s backing, Succi received seed funding from the radiology department in July of 2016 to open the MESH Incubator.
Creating a Creative Space
Although hospital leaders were excited about the incubator’s potential, they weren’t sure where to house the innovation workshop. Initially, administrators offered Succi space in a building next to the hospital, but that didn’t support his vision of making innovation more accessible. In a stroke of serendipity, MGH was relocating some radiology offices just as Succi was searching for a space. The move freed up an area adjacent to the reading room, and Brink agreed when Succi suggested that it would be a good location for the incubator.
From there, Succi made a list of the tools and equipment necessary to build out the workshop — including a 3-D printer, computer-aided design software, microprocessors, electrical components, and other prototyping support tools. He also began developing the incubator curriculum.
To start, Succi surveyed radiology residents to assess their baseline understanding of innovation. He discovered that 82 percent of residents weren’t comfortable creating a device prototype, and none of them knew how to write an intellectual property (IP) disclosure.1 So, he built the program around these topics.
Nurturing Innovative Ideas
In late 2016, Succi launched the first of two incubator courses, the Core Invention Design Curriculum (CIDC). This year-long invention mentorship is open to residents, fellows, and attending radiologists, as well as other physicians who have an idea they want to develop.
During the first six months of the CIDC, participants work one-on-one with Succi and MESH leaders in a mentorship format to validate the clinical need for their ideas. To that end, they gather patient feedback and data to define how their inventions could potentially impact patient care. During the second six months, participants prototype and iterate their inventions in the workshop before drafting and submitting IP disclosures.
Teaching Innovation Basics
While the CIDC is geared toward residents and physicians who just need the right space and skills to execute their ideas, not all residents and physicians have specific ideas to engineer. Recognizing this, Succi began developing the second incubator course, called the Core Residency Design Curriculum (CRDC), in late 2017.
The CRDC is designed to proactively educate residents and physicians throughout MGH on the basics of 3-D printing, programming, prototyping, entrepreneurship, writing patents and business plans, and other skills. In this week-long innovation boot camp, participants hear from Succi and other subject matter experts, including the director of the hospital’s Center for Clinical Data Science, who discusses AI and machine learning — important aspects of any contemporary innovation program.
Measuring the Impact
Succi launched the CRDC as a pilot project in August of 2018. The pilot involved three classes with four residents in each class, for a total of 12 students, each of whom rated the course as “extremely effective.”
To further gauge the CRDC’s impact, Succi and the other expert presenters developed pre- and post-course assessment exams to rate students’ understanding of innovation. The scores soared from less than 50 percent to approximately 90 percent — spurring Succi to offer the curriculum to all residents, fellows, and attending physicians at MGH.
Fueling the Conversation
To build awareness around the incubator and keep innovation top of mind, Succi introduced the MESH Innovator Lecture Series. Launched in mid-2017, the quarterly program is “a platform for interesting people talking about innovative things,” he says.
These lectures aren’t limited to radiology. Succi invites speakers from various disciplines and draws attendees from across the hospital and beyond. Generally, Succi focuses on topics and speakers that are “relevant to the modern clinician.” Each lecture draws an average attendance of between 30 and 40 people — including medical students, residents, staff, and even members of the public.
MESH has become a strong branding and recruiting tool for the hospital, strengthening its reputation for innovation. Incubator participants have already disclosed five patents, and more applications are pending.
An IR who was having trouble stabilizing the radiofrequency ablation probe in patients’ chests developed one of the first patentable devices through the CIDC. After Succi observed several of the clinician’s procedures, the two worked together to design and 3-D print a probe stabilization device, which they tested in several simulations before writing the patent disclosure.
Succi and the clinician are now focused on further developing the technology and licensing the device for industry use. “This is just one example of the innovations we’re working on that will have a direct impact on the delivery of care,” Succi says.
Reinforcing Radiology’s Role
Interest in the CRDC has been so high, in fact, that Succi received another radiology department grant in December of 2018 to fund the purchase of additional 3-D printers and other equipment, enabling the CRDC’s expansion to other specialties throughout the hospital. By the end of 2019, the program will expand further to include clinicians from other institutions.
“We’re even working with other hospitals to help them establish their own incubators, creating a collaborative network for sharing knowledge and resources,” Succi says. “Ultimately, we want to popularize innovation across medical disciplines, while elevating radiology’s position in a quickly-changing landscape of value-based care.”
1. Succi MD, Uppot RN, Gee MS, McLoud TC, Brink JA. Medically Engineered Solutions in Health Care: a technology incubator and design-thinking curriculum for radiology trainees. J Am Coll Radiol. 2018;15(6):892-896. Available at bit.ly/JACR_MESH.