When her father was in the hospital, TV news and medical reporter Pat Mastors learned that a TV remote control carries more bacteria than anything else in a hospital room. But, she discovered after an exhaustive online search, no products existed to cover a remote control that’s tethered in place.
Mastors was also struck by the impersonal nature of the hospital. “Being hospitalized — even while getting the best of care — can erode a person’s dignity, autonomy and spirit,” she says.
When Mastors’ father died of a hospital-acquired infection in February 2006, Mastors was galvanized into action. She patented a remote control cover and developed the Infection Defense Kit, a box filled with information about hospital-acquired infections, hand sanitizer and the remote control cover. The kit achieved modest sales in 16 states and Canada, but Mastors soon realized that hospitals would never embrace the product. “They don’t really want us to know infections are so prevalent,” Mastors says now.
Mastors took another tack. “It’s not about product,” she realized. “It’s about human interaction.” Says Mastors, “There’s no place to put anything. I go to visit people in the hospital, and the bed tray is across the room.” It’s also ludicrously inadequate to hold all the things an individual needs in the hospital.
So Mastors went back to the drawing board and invented the Patient Pod. It attaches to a bedrail, walker or wheelchair and travels with you. It still contains medical information, hand sanitizer and a remote control cover, but it’s far more than that. It has pockets for personal items such as a cell phone and glasses, a place for a treasured photo and a memo pad to let caregivers know your name and other important information, such as a list of the medications a patient takes. Mastors says hearing aids and dentures often get lost in a hospital room — the Patient Pod keeps them safe.
“It’s like taking a friend to the hospital with you, in a place where nothing you touch is yours.” Things tucked into a Patient Pod “connect you to the life you have outside the hospital,” Mastors says.
What compelled Mastors to take the plunge? Says she, “My kids are grown. I had saved some money. I had the bandwidth.” She needed all of that. She started out with a Velco-and-craft foam prototype, and enough money to start something and see where it would go. Fuzion Design not only transformed her prototype into the finalized Patient Pod; it also partnered with Mastors. “Fuzion believed in the product and in me — for which I’m eternally grateful,” Mastors says. “Without their partnership, there would be no Patient Pod.” Adds Mastors, “I wouldn’t want would-be entrepreneurs to think anyone can do this alone.”
It was an expensive process, Mastors acknowledges. “Tooling anything is very costly, and you have to amortize the cost into the price you charge per unit.” She outsourced the bulk of the manufacturing to China, paying a consultant to assure quality control. Mastors insisted, however, that anything that touched the human body be made in the United States. So, when the product arrives in the U.S., a fulfillment house adds the sanitizer to the Patient Pods.
Mastors is passionate about the product — and about teaching people to be wary of hospital infections. “Infection kills 100,000 people a year,” Mastors says. “That’s as many deaths as from AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.” The price tag — an estimated $30.5 billion annually — works out to an average cost of $15,000 per infection, Mastors adds. That’s why she lets hospitals try out the Patient Pod at a price that barely covers her costs. She also wants to get the device into patients’ hands. “I’m actively looking for distribution partners and other alliances,” she says. The pods are available online and can even be shipped directly to a hospital or nursing home.
Mastors’ advice for anyone with an invention in mind:
- Be careful about choosing the people and the partners you want on your team. You want to hold out for great people, she says. “They’ll sustain you when things are tough.”
- Creating and launching a product is all-consuming, Mastors warns. You don’t want to engage in it unless you’re serious. “My husband finally sold his insurance business and we finally were at the point where we could travel — and I can’t get away.”
- Do your research — talk to potential end users. Make sure there’s a need for it — then get a patent.
- Make sure you have a prototype. “It allows you to get input from stakeholders to move to the next step.”
Creating and launching the Patient Pod has been a learning experience, and all of it has value, Mastors says. “When I started out, I could never have imagined the process. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You have to believe that what you’re doing matters.”