Innovation in Cardiac Imaging


Technological innovation has been the lifeblood of many sectors of the American economy and, as a result, managers, policymakers, and academic researchers have long sought to understand what factors encourage technological innovation and how this process can be made more productive. While innovation has been studied intensively in a wide range of contexts,1 there remains a considerable need for a better understanding of medical innovation as it occurs in academic, industrial, and government research and development settings. Innovation in medical technology takes place within a unique environment that raises many complex issues regarding the need for collaboration across disciplinary lines and the moral and ethical implications of working with human subjects. Improving our understanding of this process may help us to identify points of leverage and accelerate the pace of technological innovation.

This chapter presents some preliminary findings and hypotheses drawn from field interviews with key participants who are involved in the innovation process in two important and widely used technologies that provide diagnostic information about the heart: nuclear cardiology and echocardiography. These technologies pose some especially interesting problems for innovators since, in both instances, their development and eventual successful application required collaboration between individuals trained in medicine or the life sciences and those trained in engineering or the physical sciences.

Our approach has been to identify a number of distinct innovations within the overall development of each of the main technologies identified above. Through interviews with engineers, scientists, and clinicians in industry and academia who were involved in or highly knowledgeable about each development, we explored the sequences of events leading up to the innovation, the settings within which the events took place, and the backgrounds and interactions of the participants. (Several case write-ups of component innovations appear as appendixes.) Then, drawing upon the findings yielded by our research, we constructed a model to identify elements of the innovation process that seemed to be common to each of the developments we examined.

Analysis of this tentative model of the innovation process helped us to identify some points of leverage for increasing the rate and sharpening the focus of innovation. We discuss how these levers could productively stimulate changes in managerial and public policy.

Our focus upon two limited areas of technology reflects a conscious decision to opt for depth rather than breadth of analysis. With only two data points it is impossible to subject our observations and conclusions to rigorous empirical verification; thus, they should be taken as hypotheses and directions for further research rather than as firmly proven facts. Our hope is that an in-depth exploration of these two areas of innovation will provide greater insight into some of the qualitative and serendipitous aspects of the innovation process and inject some new ideas into the ongoing debate over what can and should be done to foster and support this process.

Media Contact:
John Mathews
Journal Manager
Current Trends in Cardiology