When Patients Become Innovators

Article by Harold DeMonaco, Pedro Oliveira, Andrew Torrance, Christiana von Hippel, and Eric von Hippel: “Patients are increasingly able to conceive and develop sophisticated medical devices and services to meet their own needs — often without any help from companies that produce or sell medical products. This “free” patient-driven innovation process enables them to benefit from important advances that are not commercially available. Patient innovation also can provide benefits to companies that produce and sell medical devices and services. For them, patient do-it-yourself efforts can be free R&D that informs and amplifies in-house development efforts.

In this article, we will look at two examples of free innovation in the medical field — one for managing type 1 diabetes and the other for managing Crohn’s disease. We will set these cases within the context of the broader free innovation movement that has been gaining momentum in an array of industries1 and apply the general lessons of free innovation to the specific circumstances of medical innovation by patients….

What is striking about both of these cases is that neither commercial medical producers nor the clinical care system offered a solution that these patients urgently needed. Motivated patients stepped forward to develop solutions for themselves, entirely without commercial support.4

Free innovation in the medical field follows the general pattern seen in many other areas, including crafts, sporting goods, home and garden equipment, pet products, and apparel.5 Enabled by technology, social media, and a keen desire to find solutions aligned with their own needs, consumers of all kinds are designing new products for themselves….(More)”