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Quantifying Innovation in Surgery

Hughes-Hallett, Archie MRCS*; Mayer, Erik K. PhD*; Marcus, Hani J. MRCS*,†; Cundy, Thomas P. BMBS*,†; Pratt, Philip J. PhD; Parston, Greg PhD; Vale, Justin A. MS*; Darzi, Ara W. FRS*,†,‡

doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000000662
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Objectives: The objectives of this study were to assess the applicability of patents and publications as metrics of surgical technology and innovation; evaluate the historical relationship between patents and publications; develop a methodology that can be used to determine the rate of innovation growth in any given health care technology.

Background: The study of health care innovation represents an emerging academic field, yet it is limited by a lack of valid scientific methods for quantitative analysis. This article explores and cross-validates 2 innovation metrics using surgical technology as an exemplar.

Methods: Electronic patenting databases and the MEDLINE database were searched between 1980 and 2010 for “surgeon” OR “surgical” OR “surgery.” Resulting patent codes were grouped into technology clusters. Growth curves were plotted for these technology clusters to establish the rate and characteristics of growth.

Results: The initial search retrieved 52,046 patents and 1,801,075 publications. The top performing technology cluster of the last 30 years was minimally invasive surgery. Robotic surgery, surgical staplers, and image guidance were the most emergent technology clusters. When examining the growth curves for these clusters they were found to follow an S-shaped pattern of growth, with the emergent technologies lying on the exponential phases of their respective growth curves. In addition, publication and patent counts were closely correlated in areas of technology expansion.

Conclusions: This article demonstrates the utility of publically available patent and publication data to quantify innovations within surgical technology and proposes a novel methodology for assessing and forecasting areas of technological innovation.

This article demonstrates the utility of patent and publication data to quantify the historic, current, and emerging innovations within surgical technology and proposes a novel methodology for assessing and forecasting areas of technological innovation. This tool has the potential to aid in planning of future research agendas and funding.

*Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London

The Hamlyn Centre, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London; and

Centre for Health Policy, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, UK.

Reprints: Erik K. Mayer, PhD, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London, St Mary's Hospital Campus, London W2 1NY, UK. E-mail: e.mayer@imperial.ac.uk.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.