8 Ways to Earn Extra Income From Medical Activities

Leigh Page


March 22, 2016

In This Article

4. Invent a New Medical Device

Plenty of practicing physicians have made extra income inventing a new medical product. They're in a perfect position to do so. On the front lines of medicine, they're constantly confronting unsolved problems and have thought about solutions.

Indeed, there's evidence that physician-created inventions are generally better than those created by nonphysicians at large biotech companies. According to a 2008 study,[7] almost 20% of medical device inventions involved a physician at least as coinventor, and these physician-linked inventions received more positive citations and had higher ratings than corporate inventions.

Who's the typical physician-inventor? The same study found that they're usually orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, internists, ophthalmologists, and diagnostic radiologists.

Physician-inventors don't have to give up their day jobs to make an impact. Minnesota gastroenterologist Robert Ganz, MD, who has taken out 20 patents in the past 25 years or so, still has a medical practice. He's also chief of gastroenterology at a 631-bed hospital and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

Dr Ganz started inventing in the early 1990s, after he got out of training. He won't say how much money he's made from his inventions, but the device company that he cofounded in 2000 to develop one of them—a radiofrequency ablation system for Barrett esophagus—was sold to Covidien for $400 million in 2012.

"It's a good way to make money," he conceded, "but it's very difficult to see it through. Coming up with the idea is the easy part." The hard part, he says, is taking out provisional and full patents, directing animal and human clinical trials, getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and marketing the product. The process involves tens of thousands of dollars in investments and lots of worry.

Many inventions don't pan out. "Some of my projects have failed," Dr Ganz says, pointing to his work on a clinical trial of using endoscopically delivered blue light to eradicate Helicobacter pylori in parts of the gastric antrum.

Although you always have your practice to fall back on, the work of launching an invention can very easily eat into your practice time, he says. Much of this work involves convincing others to believe in and invest in your product. "People can read your enthusiasm," he says. "If you're not absolutely committed to what you're doing, it will show."

You can make your life easier by selling the rights to your product as early in the process as possible. But Dr Ganz says there's a definite downside to that. "When a company pays you for your idea, you'll never get a lot," he says. "You might get as little as $25,000."

Even though he's done very well with his sideline work, Dr Ganz says each development process has been satisfying, win or lose. "Inventing has been a lot of fun," he says. "It gives you the ability to help people and to create novel things."

Pros: You can make a lot of money on inventions and have a positive impact on medical care, while still managing to keep your practice going.

Cons: It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to bring an invention to market, and many ideas fail.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: