Innovation in Healthcare: Pat[i]ents, not Patents

I am not the kind of person that write a blog post every day. Even not every month. Last time I wrote one was actually in November 2014 and I did it in Spanish, so for you international readers don’t even try to read it.

I decided today it was time to write again. Whatever.

I have been working for 11 months now in a unit for healthcare innovation inside an University Hospital in Madrid. I was very focused on a specific project about clinical decision support in endocrinology. Yep. Technology. Health Information Technology, #HealthIT for tweeter fans.

There are many ideas flying through the office every week, not to say every hour, of very diverse nature.

What worries me is that there is no clear idea of what “innovation in healthcare” means. Even after 11 months. Well, it is not true that it “worries me”, but as close-minded imperfect engineer it disturbs me, I guess. I completely understand it, innovation should be something about changing to something new (I guess again), so why trying to define it?

In Spain, but I guess that in any other country it would be similar, traditional hospitals are moved towards the need to change. At least, it seems so. And where innovation find its place? What should we do to support innovation? Move research into final products that will benefit the hospital? That is what I think, but the reality is that there is no clear innovation law in Spain and I heard about many other different directions that the “innovation thing” is taking in other hospitals.

So I take some time to do some quick stuff, nothing formal, forgive me. My goal was to find which words are mostly used in innovation papers in healthcare. I went to Pubmed and search for the following query:

((healthcare[Title]) AND innovation[Title])

and I constrained the search to Reviews, Editorials, Journal Papers and Government Publications. No time limitations, lets go and analyze since the ancient times of Pubmed database to now.

Result: 147 publications found.

Not bad, but not impressive. Ok, the search constrained too much the title words, give me a break…

Then I exported the abstracts into a text file and removed everything except the abstract and the title. I also did some manual removal of words I know that appear in many abstracts like “METHODS:” or “CONCLUSIONS:” to name a few. Finally I did a tag cloud using this web service called tagcrowd (thank you guys!). I also avoided the following words “activity approach based centers de department edu general health healthcare including innovation medical medicine national present program providers role school study used work“. Then I put a threshold of 20 words and tell the service to give me the top 50 words:

And this is what I got.


In parenthesis the number of appearances. Cool and easy. And a bit biased, of course. But probably not much for what I did.

So I was a bit surprised that it fits my mental model of what is innovation! (sure, easy to say so once you see results…): Improvement, effectiveness, development, implementation, research (ok, this is twice biased), process, quality, change, design, knowledge, data , technology,… and everything centered on the clinical care of the patients. Sounds great.

But hey. Where are the patents? where is the business? Everything in innovation is about obtaining a patent to exploit. Isn’t it?

Only one of the 150 abstracts mention patents or patenting. So either there is no focus in those papers on commenting about patents as a tool for innovation, or the people in innovation is not really focusing on the patents as anything else than a tool that is used when it should be used. Nothing more.

So that is all I wanted to do. Reflections and further interpretations are homework for the reader. And you can of course criticize my faulty methods, this is not a meta-review, only a hack🙂













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