Keeping patients' heads up and more

A good result from an unintended consequence leads an Indiana doctor to a multimillion-dollar business.

By Tyler Chin — Posted Jan. 15, 2007

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: James Spahn, MD

Specialty: Otolaryngology, head and neck surgery

Location: Indianapolis

Business: EHOB Inc. sells inflatable mattresses, pillows and foot cushions to prevent and control pressure ulcers under the WAFFLE and DermaCare brand names.

Annual revenue: $15 million plus

Why he started the business: Dr. Spahn co-founded the business in 1985, after DRGs required hospitals to discharge patients who had undergone neck and neck cancer surgery or trauma more quickly. Patients needed to keep their heads elevated but often didn't know how to do that at home. "We had to readmit them about as fast as we were sending them out the door."

He and two partners, who are no longer involved in the business, designed a product to help patients keep their heads up, naming the company EHOB, an acronym for "elevate head of bed," an order doctors write on hospital charts.

A year later, physicians started calling, congratulating Dr. Spahn on inventing a product that helped heal pressure ulcers. "I said, 'Really? I have no idea what you're talking about.' ... All of a sudden the light went on. ... What I do in surgery flaps and reconstruction and all that is handling soft tissue just like when we were dealing with pressure ulcers. So I got interested, started looking into it, started developing more and more products for different surfaces and then started a business, and now we sell around the world," he said.

Why he stopped practicing: "This is a family business, and my decision was that I would redirect my medical ability to my business."

Words of wisdom: "You need to be realistic and realize that there are a lot of hurdles that you have to go through to bring a product to market. Some of the biggest cost, believe it or not, is marketing or distribution. You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it doesn't do much good."

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