Joel Nobel, founder of ECRI

Joel Nobel, MD, who founded ECRI Institute in 1968 and provided hands-on leadership for 34 years, died in August.

Born in 1934, Nobel developed ECRI Institute’s overall policies and programs, such as its healthcare technology assessment, product evaluation, risk management, and technical assistance services for the health community, according to ECRI. He created the concepts and operating plans for Health Devices, Health Devices Alerts, the Health Devices Sourcebook, the Healthcare Product Comparison System (HPCS), and many other ECRI Institute publications. He also developed ECRI Institute’s international programs and its related World Health Organization (WHO) activities.

ECRI Institute was conceived in 1965 when, as a resident in surgery, Nobel developed an ongoing research program in resuscitation and emergency care, says ECRI. Its development was intensified when he completed military service in 1968. In 1978, he became president and was elected to the Board of Trustees.

In 1968, supported by a federal demonstration grant, Nobel conceived and implemented the Hospital Emergency Command System in three test hospitals. It provided instantaneous and simultaneous mobilization and control of telecommunications, emergency equipment, elevators, and pagers of key personnel to respond to resuscitation and other life-threatening emergencies. He also developed a federally funded, cardiopulmonary resuscitation research program and evaluated all related equipment on the market. His 1969 report showed that nine of the 18 models of resuscitators sold in the United States were ineffective, and their manufacturers withdrew them from the marketplace.

In 1970, Nobel conceived a formal program, modeled after Consumer Reports, to evaluate competing brands and models of medical equipment used by hospitals, and he developed the testing laboratories and staff needed, according to ECRI. Health Devices, ECRI Institute’s monthly journal, began publication in April 1971. Nobel wrote the first published protocol for management of medical equipment, operation of clinical engineering departments, and accident investigation and provided model record-keeping systems. It was published in the July 1971 issue of Health Devices. He also introduced the concept and application of life cycle cost analysis to medical equipment procurement, says ECRI

Other accomplishments include:

  • In 1973, began development of ECRI Institute’s Universal Medical Device Nomenclature System, said to be the first effort to implement a worldwide common language for medical technology.
  • In 1974 supported by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, developed ECRI Shared Services in response to several state hospital associations that wished to support their member hospitals’ need for biomedical engineering services. Ten regional centers on the East Coast served 143 hospitals.
  • In 1976, conceived and began publication of Health Devices Alerts, a worldwide database of medical product defects and problems.
  • In 1977, created the Health Devices Sourcebook, a directory of medical device and equipment suppliers and their products sold in North America. He also planned and implemented the first statewide systems to inspect ambulances and emergency medical care facilities for their technical readiness.
  • In 1982, supported by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, began a series of specialty newsletters focused on medical technology for clinical personnel and, in 1983, implemented the National Implant Registry.
  • In 1984, developed and began publication of the Healthcare Product Comparison System (HPCS), which compares the characteristics of thousands of medical products produced in scores of countries.
  • In 1985, initiated an international working group to exchange information and undertake joint studies with directors from six European laboratories that also evaluated medical equipment.
  • In 1986, supported by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, initiated ECRI Institute’s first technology assessment program. Its continuing development led to designation of ECRI Institute as an evidence-based practice center by the federal government.

In 1988, Nobel was invited by WHO to apply for special Collaborating Center status for ECRI Institute, and he directed the establishment of offices in the United Kingdom (1996) to serve Europe, in Malaysia (1997) to serve the Southeast Asia-Western Pacific region, and in Dubai (1999) to serve the Arabic nations. Between 1968 and 2006, he participated in hundreds of consulting projects, often as the project leader. Among these projects have been hospital and clinic development programs in various countries in which he undertook feasibility studies, prepared project briefs and worked closely with architects, consulting engineers, equipment planners and interior designers in the schematic and design development phases. Much of his work was focused on design review of facility drawings and design and development of critical care units.

Under Nobel’s leadership, ECRI Institute grew to a full-time staff of 250, which has served thousands of hospitals, health systems, government health agencies, and others in scores of countries.