Jagdish Chaturvedi is a posterboy for the Make in India movement with his medical devices that can cut medical procedures costs’ down to a fraction when they hit the market.
Acertain doctor in Bengaluru, Dr Jagdish Chaturvedi, is an inventor of as many as 18 medical devices. Do you picture a serious, wizened man of about 60? Dr Jagdish is only 32 years old. Now before you think he is probably one of those US-educated NRIs who has worked with the best infrastructure at his disposal, the fact is that apart from a year of training in the US, for which he was selected, he did his medical graduation from Tumkur and his PG and training from our very own Bengaluru. Yet again you’re probably imagining a workaholic who might not have much of a life outside of his profession. Well, Dr Jagdish is a regular performer in Bengaluru’s theatre circles, has dabbled in stand-up comedy and has played so much badminton that he has been forced to stop because of a back injury.
And finally, considering all of the above, if you’re picturing a smug man with an air of vanity, you would be wrong for the fourth time, as so humble is the doctor that he attributes his success to simply a chain of events that worked out well. One of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators under 35, he speaks about his brilliant ideas as if they were simple inferences. Excerpts:
Where did you do your schooling and college education?
I was born and raised in Bengaluru. I did my MBBS at Sri Siddhartha Medical College, Tumkur and PG ENT training at St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru.
You have received training in theatre. How and when did that happen?
Theatre has been my hobby since childhood. I’ve been acting in comedy plays since I was seven and did some professional theatre with Bangalore Little Theatre, worked with other theatre groups, did some stand-up comedy in the US and here as well. All this doesn’t happen on a regular basis but once in 2 or 3 months, it does happen.
You have been taught to play the drums, guitar and you can play badminton too. Is there anything you can’t do?
(Laughs) I do try my luck at various things for a short period of time and move on, but I hope that won’t happen with medical devices as that’s now integrated into my career.
In college, had you thought about inventing medical devices?
Absolutely not. I’m an inventor as a result of evolution. I wanted to just be a very normal doctor. I actually lived in the NIMHANS quarters where my father is a senior professor in Psychiatry; he has been my role model and the medical field sounded very interesting to me right from my childhood.
How and when did you get interested in inventing medical devices?
During my training at St John’s Medical College, I had a boss, whom I consider my guru — Dr Ravi Nayar, who was the HOD of the ENT department at the time. He was very research-driven and made me think outside the box a lot and when we faced a clinical situation he literally pushed me to find a solution. That’s how I was nudged into inventing devices.
What was the first invention and how did it happen?
While training under Dr Nayar, we noticed that a lot of patients with throat cancer lesions would come to the hospital very late. I asked him the reason for this and he pushed me to go into a village, and understand the patients’ pain-points very well. That’s when I got the idea of attaching a camera to an endoscope so that doctors in rural areas could visualise the throat, ear and nose so that they have a much better diagnostic tool rather than the age-old mirrors and spatulas that we use even today. I conveyed this to Dr Nayar and he said, “Nothing’s going to happen by just talking. You need to put in some money.” That’s when I engaged with an engineer and a designer. I took a design firm’s (Icarus Design Consultants) help to develop the first prototype that worked really well. And after that, I won a business contest and got some more senior mentorship.
Was it tough to get funding?
I struggled a lot then because at the time, in 2010, medical tech didn’t get the capital it gets now. Also, being a doctor, people didn’t believe in investing in someone who was already doing full-time clinical work. So I had to put in my own money, a couple of lakhs, made the prototype and got it to a functional level but couldn’t take it beyond that.
Then how did you get the product out?
Dr Nayar suggested learning the process of making a viable device. I applied to a government programme called Stanford-India Biodesign, which was funded by the department of Biotechnology. I was selected to go to Stanford University, learnt the process of bio-design there, returned having understood how the game works, and then started getting this product out to a licensing exit with a large company.
Why is bio-design so important for inventing something?
As doctors, we understand problems really well but have absolutely no training on how to solve them in a manner that it reaches the patient. One thing you can’t avoid is the commercialisation and manufacturing aspect of it and doctors are not geared to think that way. We don’t think whether it can be manufactured, does it make a profit, or can it sustain. So many doctors make early efforts that never reach the market. When I understood what my pitfalls were I started working on them and got that first product out after I sold it to Icarus and helped Icarus sell it to a larger company. Then I started to invent numerous devices that were sold out very early. I’ve been involved with about 18 devices in total. The programme empowered me to figure out how quick inventions can be made without me leaving my clinical career.
How do you identify the problem areas to solve for which you can invent devices?
We follow the bio-design process which involves a multi-disciplinary team. A doctor is with a designer and an engineer and maybe even a business person and all of them spend two to two and a half months in the hospital day-in-day-out only observing problems, shadowing doctors and making notes of things that go wrong. We go on ambulance rides, observe emergencies, speak to doctors, and record whatever happens in front of us in a systematic manner. After two-and-a-half months we have 200-300 problems identified and then we have a unique filtering process where we take scientific literature and doctors’ inputs and we score them to find out which is the most compelling need.
And you learnt this methodology at Stanford?
Yes. It’s a tried-and-tested process in Stanford for the past 15 years, which is why the government of India wanted doctors and engineers to go there and learn the process to bring that knowledge here. That is the reason I wrote Inventing Medical Devices: A Perspective from India.
What would be your advice to young doctors?
My advice would basically be to tell them that something that they think today is not correct. They think that if they want to invent they have to leave their clinical careers, which is absolutely untrue. All they need to do is to first find a good team and develop ideas for them. So, first find an engineer and a designer who are willing to take forward their idea, then work on the idea with them and co-develop it with them, instead of drawing up a contract.
Designing Medical Devices that Empower
- Jagdish Chaturvedi is currently the Director, Clinical Innovations and Partnerships at Innaccel Acceleration Services Private Limited based in Bangalore
- He is recognised as one of the 35 innovators under the age of 35 by the MIT Technology Review 2016