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Northwell funds employee ideas that could reshape health care's future


A bioelectronic device for reducing premature births and smart laboratory boxes that sense whether a specimen is inside are the big winners from Northwell Health's Innovation Challenge, a system-wide call to all employees that culminated recently at the Made for Big Ideas™ Showcase.

To help turn these ideas into reality, both winning teams were awarded up to $500,000 in funding from Northwell Ventures, which evaluates, develops and finances innovations originating with the health system's physicians, researchers and other employees. In addition, Northwell Health President & CEO Michael J. Dowling seeded six runners-up that each demonstrated remarkable promise with funding, ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 a piece to move their ideas forward. The contest winnowed 40 semifinalists down to eight exciting ideas in two categories. The health system's 63,500 employees also voted on their favorite idea.

The winners were decided by a panel of judges – Ken Abrams, MD, managing director at Deloitte Consulting; Joe Greskoviak, COO of Press Ganey; Annie Lamont, managing partner at Oak HC/FT; and Thomas Thornton, senior vice president of Northwell Ventures – during an exhilarating pitch session.

"The Innovation Challenge is an example of how we engage our employees to help solve some of health care's biggest challenges," said Mr. Thornton. "At Northwell, we strive to foster an organizational culture that celebrates and rewards out-of-the-box thinking. We put real money and resources behind the winners to ensure that ideas are given the opportunity to be tested, iterated on, and implemented to ultimately change lives. I count this year's Challenge as a success in that each of the finalist teams highlighted a unique problem that affects not just our own organization, but every healthcare organization, and raised a novel solution to tackle it."

While the stated goal was to develop an idea that can shape the future of health care, the Challenge may have fostered two.

Taking the top prize in the category of improving clinical care was the NeuroGuard, developed by Chad Bouton, director of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research's Center for Bioelectronic Medicine, and Mohamed Ahmed, MD, PhD, a neonatal-perinatal research director at the Feinstein Institute and associate professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. The NeuroGuard device, worn like a belt around the stomach of a mother-to-be, delivers tiny electrical signals to naturally modulate neural pathways that regulate uterine contractions. This is intended to delay premature delivery and allow time for fetal maturity and the administration of antenatal steroid to enhance lung maturity and minimize postnatal complications.

"Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under the age of five," said Dr. Ahmed. "With Northwell Health's financial support, we hope to address preterm birth complications by studying our bioelectronic medicine device's ability to naturally delay premature delivery."

SmartBox won the large-scale margin improvement category, which encourages the development of creative cost efficiencies. The Northwell Health Labs team of Michael Eller, Ross Schneidman, Brian Torpey and Christopher Zavala earned the most employee votes for their innovation, which may solve a daily logistical problem for Northwell Health Labs.

Clients currently call the Laboratory's service department to schedule a pick-up. However, the innovation team noticed a large number of "dead stops," in which a scheduled route pick-up results in no specimen, due to the client not leaving the sample in the container. SmartBox will automatically let a centralized logistics server know that a lab sample was placed in the box, alerting the nearest driver to pick it up with the goal of decreasing pick-up turnaround time and increasing client/patient satisfaction.

"We set out to address a lab transport inefficiency and we're thrilled that our SmartBox is the winner of the Innovation Challenge," said Mr. Eller, assistant vice president of project and planning management at Northwell Health Labs. "Implementing this tool will save more than 2,500 wasted hours each month and improve care by delivering faster lab results to our patients and practitioners."

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About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State's largest health care provider and private employer, with 22 hospitals, over 550 outpatient facilities and nearly 15,000 affiliated physicians. We care for more than two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 63,500 employees – 15,000+ nurses and 4,000 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We're making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit

Jason Molinet
[email protected]

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