“Engineering Rounds” at Oregon Health & Science University, made possible by industry partnership

May 11th, 2020Engineering Rounds at OHSU

How we did it...

The chance to observe, ask questions, and receive feedback is essential to engineers in any industry. However, it is typically difficult in the medical industry. Oftentimes, engineers are granted access to “shadow” clinicians but do not usually have easy access to interact with nurses, physicians or patients. Meanwhile, innovative clinicians who see real world clinical problems may come up with ideas but lack the engineering expertise to realize them into well-functioning products.

To bridge these gaps, Welch Allyn (later acquired by Hillrom), a medical device company, joined forces with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to develop a new clinical immersion platform called “Engineering Rounds,” which allowed medical equipment design engineers and product developers the chance to engage with clinicians and patients. Unlike typical shadowing, clinicians were “off duty” during the Engineering Rounds, allowing them to be more deeply engaged for meaningful discussions and opportunities to involve other clinical staff in the conversation.

Through this platform, OHSU offered the clinical expertise necessary to identify patient care problems and provide nuanced insights into the clinical workflow and use cases applicable to new innovations, while Welch Allyn/Hillrom offered the engineering expertise necessary to interpret the user needs and create physical solutions to the identified clinical problems.

The ideation of this program started in January 2015. By April, the agreement had been put into place, and the very first set of Engineering Rounds took place on April 22, 2015. The pilot round of this program was largely driven by the director of software and systems architecture at Welch Allyn, and championed by two Emergency Medicine clinicians at OHSU. This very robust program stemmed from a strong partnership between Welch Allyn/Hillrom and OHSU. The success of this program relied heavily on the tremendous departmental support, essential scientific leadership to the program, as well as smooth operation/implementation of the program through speedy agreement negotiation and continued alliance management.

Since 2015, four rounds of Engineering Rounds have taken place, spanning multiple clinical departments at OHSU, including emergency medicine, cardiology, surgery, etc. Meanwhile, there was an externship component of the program where three OHSU faculty champions were invited to visit Hillrom’s headquarters in Chicago. This externship provided additional opportunities for innovative clinicians to gain direct exposure to product management, marketing, business development, and engineering in the industry. Through the two-way immersion, clinicians and medical device engineers exchange firsthand knowledge with their respective expertise, driving the development of more practical products that better address real clinical problems, and ultimately delivering better care for patients.

Besides knowledge exchange and expansion, at least two new patentable intellectual properties have come out of this joint program between Welch Allyn/Hillrom and OHSU. These innovative technologies are actively being pursued for commercialization, including one startup formation and one active clinical study on the co-development technology.

This highly successful program highlights the importance of academic-industry collaboration and engaging partners with complementary expertise. It also provides evidence of how much can be accomplished when multidisciplinary teams form working relationships with business partners.