Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What’s the ROI of a Healthcare Technology Startup Seeded with Your Tax Dollars?

The founders of No Gadget Too Complicated, LLC
I recently started working on a video about a new device that could help millions of patients confined to hospital beds by preventing the formation of pressure ulcers, more commonly known as bedsores. During the taping, I met and interviewed the four co-founders of the company behind the invention, No Gadget Too Complicated, LLC.

I can hear what you're thinking.

"Adam’s producing one of those pharmaceutical or medical training videos he takes on to pay the bills when he's not working on cool stories about public education."


"Well, surely Adam was at one of those neat e-patient conferences where they talk about all the latest innovations in Health 2.0 and online patient communities."

Wrong again.

On location at High Point Regional High School
I was actually on assignment for Classroom Close-up, NJ doing another story about the great things happening in New Jersey's public schools. This time I was at High Point Regional High School in Sussex and the four partners were all under the age of 20 (two of them still in high school). The students designed the device as part of a high school engineering project and are currently seeking a patent for their invention.

The device, known as the Pressure Sore Relief System (PSRS), uses sensors and special motors placed under a mattress to stimulate blood flow to different parts of a patient's body. PSRS has several advantages over other systems currently used to prevent bedsores, some of which still rely on nurses to physically move patients or simply work on timed intervals with no intelligence behind them. PSRS is also cost effective because it can be used with a standard hospital bed mattress.

After the project took first place in the electronic research and experimentation category at the 2009 National Technology Student Association Conference, the students were encouraged to patent their device by one of the judges who since has mentored the group and donated to their fledgling company. The students have also received guidance and help from their teachers, the community, and local legislators.

I think this story is just another example of how much public education has intensified in the last few decades. The engineering program at High Point is impressive and is providing students with a huge head start on their careers. Think about it, here are four teenagers that are on the verge of patenting a medical device. Their success and subsequent journey has also influenced High Point’s curriculum as the school plans to add lessons about business development and the patent process to guide future students that find themselves in similar positions.

I probably won't touch on this angle in the show, but another important theme in this story is the selflessness it takes to be a teacher. How many future business ventures will the faculty I interviewed at High Point directly or indirectly contribute to? No doubt many, and I know that none of the teachers or the school will try to claim a stake in those achievements or any subsequent financial rewards. Even when they put in hours of their own personal time and energy to help students achieve that success. Selflessness just comes with the territory when you're a teacher. (Just be clear, the school will brag to the world and hang plaques everywhere, but it will always be about the students.)

You could say that's not much different than the corporate world. Smart managers give the credit to the team. Sure they do, but the managers usually take home the fat checks and the companies take home the fatter profits. Of course, now that I've said that, I'm a little worried that some clever education reformer will demand schools like High Point cling to IP rights so the profits from student inventions can be used to offset property taxes.

I generally think that trying to treat education as a business is a flawed concept. However, with all the recent debate about how to best evaluate teacher effectiveness, maybe what we really need is to develop some kind of formula that can measure the true ROI of teachers? Do they have a standardized test that measures regional economic impact, new business developments, and relative health of a population?

What do you think? What other variables would we need to include in a teacher ROI formula? Would you support public schools profiting from the work of students if it meant lower taxes?

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