The ERRIN innovation event, The Hospital of the Future, 2 March 2010, explored the future of the hospital as a recipient of financially and environmentally sustainable investment.
The key outcome for me, as one of the moderators of the event, was the emerging view of the hospital as a major innovator within their local/regional economies.
Hospitals are both producers of knowledge and consumers of it. They in effect sit on two sides of the great chasm that separates a great idea with its commercialisation — this chasm is fondly referred to as the ‘valley of death’, and many good small start-ups go there to disappear and their potential benefits lost to society.
We may not think of hospitals in this particularly entrepreneurial manner, but perhaps within their social mandate to provide healthcare, they may be one of the few institutions that are best suited to be research translators.
There is much concern about the general poor ability of universities to commercialise their research. Perhaps we should focus our efforts elsewhere — universities are not really consumers of what they produce; indeed, they can be seen as some of the least innovative institutions in modern society, reforming slowly, adopting novel approaches to teaching as a leisurely pace, and often quite disconnected from the real challenges facing policy makers and decision-makers on a day to day basis. They were innovative when they were invented, but times change (for a take on this see Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas, reviewed in The Economist)
For healthcare, it may be more sensible to concentrate on building entrepreneurial capacity with institutions that are heavy consumers of innovation, in effect to pull the bench-side research to the bedside, rather than continue to try to turn academics into real-world entrepreneurs.
That means of course that consumers of research need to be freed up to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in order to accelerate the research translation process. Hospitals seem to me to bring together key elements to achieve that goal better than we may have realised and that therefore, the hospital of the future, starting today, should be a nexus for innovation and entrepreneurial activity.