Two projects that could receive some of a $75 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration would give a booster shot to health care technology in Arkansas.
Last month, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, the lead grant applicant, announced it is a finalist for the EDA’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge program. The EDA will select recipients in September.
If UAMS ultimately succeeds, funded programs could include an e-health technology transfer project and a technology simulation lab project.
Tech Transfer Project
Sarah Goforth, executive director at the Office of Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, has been working on the transfer project, the Arkansas BioDesign Fellowship program, for nearly two years. It seeks to place clinicians (nurses, physicians, specialists and others) on teams with engineers, entrepreneurs and researchers, who would then spend a year collaborating on prototype and test products to solve problems in hospitals and clinics.
“This model differs from a traditional technology transfer approach because the development of the innovations begins with the clinical needs in mind, whereas most technologies developed in academic institutions are born out of a basic research or laboratory environment that values novelty but does not necessarily have a market need in mind,” Goforth told Arkansas Business by email.
She said entrepreneurs will get a rare opportunity to access to real-world problems and environments where patients, clinicians and others can be interviewed and observed. The fellowship program will also fund 50% of their time.
Goforth said the grant would pay for a program director and a prototyping and fabrication specialist and help build a fabrication lab, “which our region badly needs for the development of new medical devices and diagnostic tools.” A small-scale version of the project is set to start in April. If the grant comes, a larger version could launch early next year, with the prototyping facility being built in the second quarter of 2023, she said.
Goforth said her office will partner on the program with HealthTech Arkansas and four regional health care systems. Her office operates a business incubator called the Greenhouse out of the The Collaborative in Bentonville, and that is where this program will be based. “Northwest Arkansas is well on its way to developing the ingredients needed to compete with other healthcare innovation clusters, and this program will be an important step in that direction.”
“Simulation is a big part of medical education,” said Dr. Sharon Reece, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at UAMS. “It started in industries where mistakes were catastrophic. So simulation was a way of practicing high-stakes situations and allowing people to make mistakes in a simulated safe environment.” Health care is, of course, very high stakes, she said.
Simulation can also “bridge that big leap of faith that students have to take when they go from classroom to clinical settings because it’s one thing to read about a condition in a textbook and it’s another thing to treat a person in front of you with that condition,” Reece said.
Though simulation is already being used to teach there, UAMS is aiming for a unified program to educate students via simulation from early med school to residency and beyond. The project’s goal is to train 50,000 workers in 10 years.
The program would also train health care teams. Doctors would train alongside nurses and other professionals in hospital and clinic settings with patients, working on better communication strategies.
Simulation “boils down to patient safety,” Reece said. “… critical incidents and tragedies happen not really when people don’t know the information or when people aren’t adequately trained. Usually the breakdown happens when somebody doesn’t speak up.”
The EDA grant would fund equipment upgrades and the build-out of a three- to four-room simulation lab big enough for 20 students at a time, Reece said. “That would look like multiple classrooms that are actually built like hospital rooms, ICU rooms, operating theaters.”