GPs are highly creative but many of their ideas never leave the drawing board or reach further than their practice.
Overwork, stress, fatigue and lack of time restrict most GPs. And those in a position to turn their idea into something tangible do not necessarily know how to go about it.
Trying to make things happen in healthcare throws up a set of challenges to do with the nature of the NHS itself. It is huge, bureaucratic, made up of thousands of small but autonomous organisations, with no clear corporate structure or communication channels.
Dr Andy Goldberg, an orthopaedic surgeon in London, is founder of Medical Futures, an organisation that aims to help doctors turn their bright ideas into realities.
'Risk is a swear word in NHS culture,' Dr Goldberg claims.
The NHS does have a network of Innovation Hubs, set up to help anyone in the NHS to develop their idea into a commercially viable proposition.
The problem with the hubs, says Dr Goldberg, is that they rely on doctors to approach them about turning their idea into a business, when not everyone wants to set up a business.
Dr Goldberg believes that 90 per cent of doctors are what he calls ideapreneurs, people who come up with ideas but do nothing about them, rather than entrepreneurs, who may not have such good ideas but are the kind of people who will give them a go.
'The problem is that if you assume ideapreneurs are entrepreneurs and try to give them money or backing, it is not going to stimulate innovation.
You can't force people to become entrepreneurs. The hub invites you to go to them with your idea, then take ownership of it. An entrepreneurial GP is going to ask: "Why should I give you my idea?"'
Medical Futures offers tailored advice. 'We sit down and ask doctors about their motivation: do they want to make lots of money, change the world, or gain the respect of colleagues? You can advise more clearly once they have identified the route they need to take to satisfy their own personal goals and objectives,' it states.
The options are to work with your primary care organisation or SHA to develop your idea for the benefit of patients, whether or not you have a financial stake in it; to license your idea for development (a low-risk, low-return model in which you receive royalties and probably a consultancy post); or to develop the idea yourself, creating a company to make it happen (more risky but with the potential for great rewards).
Look out for award schemes which act as a showcase for innovation and entering for a prize is one relatively easy way to draw attention to your idea.
DR TONY STERN, HILLINGDON - Practice Carepoint, Northwood Hills, London
Idea: Doctors' Virtual Health Care, a service designed to provide real-time video and audio consultations between patients and secondary care clinicians anywhere in the UK. The service would run via NHSnet and practice computers.
Progress so far: Still in the early stages. Dr Stern has developed a model, including the technology required and details of how record-keeping, payment systems and so on would operate.
Pitfalls: The NHS records system is not sophisticated enough.
Challenges: 'The feeling I get from higher up in the NHS is that it's too early and there are too many other things going on; it is difficult to find out who makes key decisions.'
His vision: 'Twenty years from now it will be a different world.'
Website: www.doctorsvirtual healthcare.com
DR NIGEL MASTERS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE - Practice Highfield Surgery, Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire
Idea: Clinical indications labelling. Adding a few words to the prescribing instructions on repeat prescriptions, such as 'to lower blood pressure', so patients, carers and other health professionals know what the various drugs are for.
Progress so far: Dr Masters has spent 18 months adding the labelling to all repeat prescriptions in his practice and has shared the system across the PCT. He has signed an agreement with NHS Innovations Hub South-west to develop a computerised system. He has won awards, including a GP Enterprise Award and a BUPA Communications Award.
His proudest moment 'I developed the foot-pump nebuliser as a trainee GP and it is still going strong 25 years later.'
Pitfalls: 'People tend to assume it is easier than it seems or that an idea has been done before.'
Rewards: 'Patients will see great benefit from this. The buzz of the new idea in my head is what drives me.'
His vision: 'A small core team from the DoH driving this throughout the NHS.'
Website: www.wycombe-pct.nhs.uk and click on MMS
ENCOURAGING GP INNOVATION
GP Enterprise Awards
GP Enterprise Awards have rewarded innovation in primary care and helped innovative practices to present their ideas to their colleagues across the UK. Go to GPonline.com to see details of last year's award winners.
Medical Futures Innovations Awards As well as the accolades and prize money, Medical Futures offers workshops, masterclasses and networking events where healthcare professionals with ideas can meet experts, obtain advice on their options and consider how to proceed. For more information, go to www.medicalfutures.co.uk NHS Innovation Hubs www.innovations.nhs.uk.