Physician – Engineering Collaboration

By Kevin E. Bennet

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the June 2014 issue of the IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

The collaboration between physician and engineer is recognized as being critical for the effective development of new devices and systems for the medical environment. The Mayo Clinic, originally located in Rochester, Minnesota, has embedded engineers in patient care, research, medicine, and surgery, in order to created new devices and systems tailored directly to the needs of medical care and patients. The organization has electrical, mechanical, biomedical, software and chemical engineers as well as technologists, machinists and a glassblower combined in a Division of Engineering that concentrates on novel developments. The roots of this division can be traced back to 1915, and has continued to evolve throughout the years.

Many organizations and companies recognize and implement the collaboration concept to varying degrees. The value that engineering can provide to medicine is substantial, as is the downside to failures in technology. It has been estimated that health care systems failures result in 100,000 deaths and one million injuries each year. Improvements in communication and speed with which procedures and tests are performed and correlated lead to a reduction in hospital stays which lowers costs and provides less risk of nosocomial (hospital derived) infections.

The article provides one example of how the collaboration system works. In 2006, Kendall Lee, MD, PhD. joined the Mayo Clinic’s neurosurgical staff and devoted half his time to research. His focus was on the possibility of improving the science and technology of deep brain stimulation (DBS). Dr. Lee was interested in measuring feedback where DBS would be controlled by measuring the neurochemical output of the stimulation. He (a neurosurgeon) met with Kevin E. Bennet (an engineer) and founded the Neural Engineering Laboratory whose staff has grown to 23 researchers and engineers. In collaboration, over 20 members of the Division of Engineering have worked on discovery, design, and fabrication on such projects as specialized head frames for electrode implantation, wireless neurotransmitter detectors, custom integrated circuits, algorithms to separate the neurotransmitter signals from the other brain activity and diamond based neurotransmitter detectors.

As the author states in the article, “There is an urgency to complete devices and systems and get them into clinical practice since the patients are waiting.” Effective collaboration across disciplines would appear to be part of the solution.


Kevin E. Bennet ( received a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard University. He is Chair of the Division of Engineering of the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, MN, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and co-Director of the Neural Engineering Laboratory of Neurologic Surgery. His division collaboratively develops and applies new technology for clinical practice and research and efforts include deep brain stimulation, wireless physiological monitoring and minimally invasive surgery. Mr. Bennet joined the Mayo Clinic in 1990 with current and past appointments as Chair of Strategic Alliances, Vice Chair of Information Technology Standards & Architecture Subcommittee, Clinical Practice Committee Equipment Subcommittee, Information Technology Coordinating Executive Committee, Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, and Medical/Industry Relations Committee as well as chair and membership in various workgroups and taskforces. He has also served as a reviewer of Mayo Clinic Proceedings and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Innovation Research program. He has over 30 years of experience in technology development, holds patents concerning semiconductor and optical technology, and has founded several technology-based companies.