Physicians are problem solvers; this truth underlies the practice of medicine. For many clinicians, the problems to be solved daily surround the diagnosis, treatment, and management of individual patients. For others, it’s translating that problem-solving ability to a larger landscape—to see a problem for which a solution is lacking and strive to solve it for the benefit of patients, providers, and even healthcare systems.
Explore This IssueApril 2022
Otolaryngologists are in a unique position to enter and excel in entrepreneurship. As both clinicians and surgeons, they’re trained and skilled at managing the full spectrum of problems that a patient may present with. “Otolaryngology allows you to solve a patient’s problem regardless of whether it requires surgical or medical treatment,” said Karen Stierman, MD, an otolaryngologist practicing in Austin, Texas. “You get the blanket problem and then get to figure out how to tackle it.”
The types of medical problems that otolaryngologists encounter also mean that the specialty is ripe for innovation, according to Dr. Stierman, who mentioned the electrical and mechanical components of many ear, nose, and throat problems that could be improved through innovations in biotechnology, for example.
Citing the large number of otolaryngologists engaged in entrepreneurial work, Peter Santa Maria, MBBS, PhD, current chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) Medical Devices and Drugs Committee, emphasized the inclusivity of this group, which comprises otolaryngologists in both private practice and academic medicine, as well as those engaged in the full spectrum of entrepreneurial activity, from consulting work to owning a company.
Meet an Unmet Medical Need
Innovating is creating something new or building upon something that already exists in order to make it better. In medicine, this may be a device or therapeutic to improve outcomes for patients, a surgical device to reduce surgical time or ease the difficulty of a procedure, or a new software to help manage chronic conditions. The possibilities are endless.
But the first step in launching an innovation with commercial potential is seeing an unmet medical need.
“ENT, like any specialty, unfortunately, has treatments that have complications, and many of our treatments are expensive to the healthcare system,” said Dr. Santa Maria. “What can we identify as the problem areas and what can we do to make them better?”
Recognizing a problem area and then coming up with a solution for how to make it better is the correct sequence to innovation, he said, and one that he teaches potential entrepreneurs in his role as associate director for the Stanford SPARK program in translational research at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., as well as when he mentors participants attending the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign.