Industry legend Tom Fogarty honored as first NAI Fellow

Mountain View, CA – March 15, 2012 – Rock stars have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The entertainment industry has the Academy Awards. And athletes have a number of hall of fame's dedicated to their respective sports.

But how do we honor the rock stars of medical innovation – individuals who dedicate their career to making a real difference in peoples' lives? The answer until recently: Not nearly enough.

But the National Academy of Inventors (NAI;Tampa, Florida) is working to change that by recognizing individuals who have demonstrated a prolific innovative spirit in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions with tangible impact quality on society's quality of life, economic development and overall welfare The organization recently honored Thomas Fogarty, MD, founder of the Fogarty Institute for Innovation (Mountain View, California) as its first NAI Fellow in the newly established Fellow membership category. The induction serves as one of the highest professional distinctions given to inventors.

Fogarty has been called the Mickey Mantle of medical device innovators – and rightfully so. An internationally recognized cardiovascular surgeon, inventor and entrepreneur, he has served as founder, chairman and board member of over 30 companies and has acquired 135 \surgical patents, including the Fogarty balloon catheter and the widely used Aneurx Stent Graft that replaces open surgery aortic aneurysm.

In addition to his recent induction to the NAI, Fogarty has received countless other awards and honors in the fi eld of innovation. But if ever have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the man himself – as Medical Device Daily did this week – you will fi nd that he is not only brilliant, but also caring and incredibly humble. And he speaks quite candidly about the state of innovation today and the fact that the nation that once was the leader of innovation is quickly slipping in the ranks.

While Fogarty admits it is "very rewarding" to be acknowledged for his contributions, he says being able to benefit patients is a reward in and of itself. "There's always heroes and that kind of thing, but the real heroes are the patients who will allow new procedures to be performed on them," Fogarty told MDD.

"Without them, we wouldn't have new technology." But like many of today's innovation leaders, Fogarty is disturbed by the direction that innovation in the U.S. is headed.

"We are not heading in the right direction, we are going backwards," he said. "I think it is accelerating, probably more than most of us have realized."

Among the many deterrents that have plagued the industry in recent years, Fogarty mentioned economic issues and cultural changes as primary hurdles. "The fact is, it's reached a point in the fi eld of medicine that we in the U.S. are no longer the leaders in medical technology," Fogarty said. He would tell anyone who might dispute that fact to "go offshore, travel, and see what is going on" in other countries compared to the U.S.

"It used to be our foreign colleagues would come to the U.S. to learn," he added. Now the table is turned, he says, as U.S. physicians go overseas to learn from physicians in other countries who have more experience with the latest technologies because they've had earlier access. "That is an upsetting situation, not just for our economy, but for our patients. It's horrible."

There is a reason medical tourism has become such a popular option among U.S. patients, Fogarty says: "[Other countries have] better drugs, better technology and better trained physicians, because they've been dealing with the new technology for as long as ten years before we had access to it."

So what should be done to get the U.S. back on the right track to reclaiming its leadership position in medical technology? Fogarty says it starts with a cultural change on all sides – industry, FDA, CMS, and physicians.

"I think it's reached a point that regulators and industry have become severe and fi erce combatants," he said. "We have to understand that we should be not competitive, but compatible. We must respect one another and once you establish that, then I think we can move forward."

But it won't happen overnight. "That takes a long time to get done," he says. "It takes a real commitment."

The Fogarty Institute for Innovation started essentially because of the "frustrations we have all had with large institutions," Fogarty told MDD. He explained that large academic institutions and large hospitals require structure to function, but "structure is an enemy" to innovators.

"We think differently. We think out of the box. We go against standards," Fogarty said. "So it's always an incompatible relationship when you get together with large institutions."

The answer, his institute found, was to establish a relationship with a smaller, private hospital, like El Camino Hospital (Mountain View, California).

"No longer can you teach, be a good clinician, and do research," Fogarty said. "There's too much. It's too complex, and you can't really do those three things."

He added that those who do try to do all three are probably not doing any one of those things as well as they should be.

The key, he says, is to focus on just one thing, which is what happens at hospitals like El Camino where, he says, the focus is "optimal patient care, optimal patient care, optimal patient care." By contrast, Fogarty says the focus at large academic institutions is "getting grant, getting grant, getting grant."

But the takeaway message from MDD's conversation with Fogarty was that innovation is absolutely critical to the health of not just the medical technology industry but to our society as a whole. "You have to appreciate that we can only move forward through innovation," he said.

And while great medical innovators like himself are not recognized nearly as often as athletes and entertainers, being honored by organizations like the NAI is "very meaningful" on a personal level, he said. "We should acknowledge significantly those people who help us innovate."

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