Northwell innovators think outside the box, and in

Momma boy: Inventor Chad Bouton (right) helps Joe Greskoviak, president and CEO of Press Ganey Associates, try on the NeuroGuard, a nerve-stimulation device for expectant mothers.

Bioelectronics and “smart” tech won the day in the Northwell Health 2017 Innovation Challenge.

The challenge, which invited the New Hyde Park-based health system’s 63,000-plus employees to submit groundbreaking healthcare ideas for a shot at project-development funding, eventually came down to two champions at Northwell Health’s Made For Big Ideas Showcase in October – a bioelectronic device designed to reduce premature births and a “smart” laboratory container that knows when a biological specimen is inside.

The teams behind both winning entries were each awarded up to $500,000 to develop their innovations, while a host of runner-up teams snagged between $100,000 and $250,000 apiece to advance theirs. Funding was provided by Northwell Ventures, the health system’s corporate-venture arm.

Taking the top prize in the Improving Client Clinical Care category was the NeuroGuard, developed by Chad Bouton, director of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research’s Center for Bioelectronic Medicine, and Mohamed Ahmed, a neonatal-perinatal research director at the Feinstein Institute and associate professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

The NeuroGuard, worn like a belt around the stomach of an expectant mother, delivers tiny electrical signals to naturally modulate neural pathways that regulate uterine contractions – a mild zapping intended to delay premature delivery and allow time for fetal maturity, as well as the administration of antenatal steroids to enhance lung maturity and minimize postnatal complications.

Noting that complications from preterm births are the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5, Ahmed said he and Bouton would use the prize money to build out the birth-delaying nerve-stimulation technology.

“With Northwell Health’s financial support, we hope to address preterm birth complications by studying our bioelectronic medicine device’s ability to naturally delay premature delivery,” Ahmed said Tuesday.

In the Large-Scale Margin Improvement category, which is meant to encourage the development of creative cost efficiencies, SmartBox – designed by the Northwell Health Labs team of Michael Eller, Ross Schneidman, Brian Torpey and Christopher Zavala – took top honors.

Noticing a number of “dead stops,” in which third-party laboratory clients fail to leave specimens in transportation containers picked up by Northwell Health drivers, the team developed the Smartbox, which automatically notifies a centralized logistics server when a laboratory sample is present – both decreasing turnaround times and increasing client satisfaction.

Inside-the-box thinking: Developers Michael Eller (left) and Christopher Zavala show off the SmartBox.

“We set out to address a lab-transport inefficiency and we’re thrilled that our SmartBox is the winner of the Innovation Challenge,” said Eller, Northwell Health Labs’ assistant vice president of project and planning management. “Implementing this tool will save more than 2,500 wasted hours each month and improve care by delivering faster lab results to our patients and practitioners.”

The winners were selected by a judges panel including Ken Abrams, managing director at New York City’s Deloitte Consulting; Joe Greskoviak, president and CEO of Indiana-based healthcare support network Press Ganey Associates; Annie Lamont, managing partner at Connecticut VC fund Oak HC/FT; and Thomas Thornton, senior vice president of Northwell Ventures.

Northwell Health’s roughly 63,500 employees also voted to help whittle down the contest to the finalists at the Made For Big Ideas Showcase – making the entire Innovation Challenge a prime example of “how we engage our employees to help solve some of healthcare’s biggest challenges,” according to Thornton.

“We strive to foster an organizational culture that celebrates and rewards out-of-the-box thinking,” the senior VP said in a statement. “We put real money and resources behind the winners to ensure that ideas are given the opportunity to be tested, iterated on and implemented to ultimately change lives.

“Each of the finalist teams highlighted a unique problem that affects not just our own organization, but every healthcare organization, and raised a novel solution to tackle it.”

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