A Nurse and Two Venture Capitalists? Unexpected Connections at TEDMED

May 28, 2013, 9:18 AM, Posted by Timothy Landers

Timothy Landers, RN, CNP, PhD, is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar.

One of the great surprises of TEDMED was the chance to talk with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Entrepreneurs and inventors mixed with physicians and nurses, computer developers and hackers, health care leaders and nonprofit executives, as well as politicians and visionaries.

At a social at the Air & Space Museum, I was waiting for dessert with two well-dressed businessmen who explained their “business” was venture capital (VC).  As it turns out, some VCs look for new, high-tech start-up technology, while others target under-developed business opportunities.

I admit to being skeptical of the profit motive in health care and the profit-maximizing approach too often seen in the corporate world.  As a nurse, I have seen power and prestige given to corporate interests at the expense of patients and families.  Because of the structure of TEDMED, this nurse found himself talking about approaches to venture capital and start-up funding.

We discussed these approaches to venture capital and then I shared what I do and what I know:  infection prevention and epidemiology.  I live in the world of health care-associated infections (HAIs), never events, non-payment for HAIs, hand hygiene, and isolation precautions, so it surprised me that these two well-dressed, intelligent venture capitalists were hardly aware of these important trends.

As I reflected on this interaction, I have been thinking about my role as a researcher and scientist.  The great universities of the world exist to serve our students and the social institution of science, and our public universities can give business and corporate interests unique insights into emerging trends and cutting edge ideas.  Universities can serve as a valuable resource to business interests, just as they do to students.

In order to make a difference in the work that we do in academics, we need to be able to translate our insights and perspectives to innovate and improve our current practices.  However, we can’t do this in a vacuum: We need clinicians, policy-makers, stakeholders, and investors to improve our health care system.

So, if I had a couple of hundred of million dollars to invest in infection prevention, what would I be looking at?  Technology to monitor and improve hand hygiene and other infection prevention practices, data mining systems to identify patients with the highest risk of infection, and end-to-end infection prevention solutions.

As an academic, I will probably never have an extra hundred million dollars, but I met some guys at TEDMED who are looking for just such opportunities.  I’ll keep doing science and sharing what I learn.

Read more from Timothy Landers about TEDMED.
Read more about the experience of RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars who attended TEDMED 2013.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.