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Dr. Joel Nobel, with his Max Cart display at ECRI Institute in 2008.
Dr. Nobel, with his Max Cart display at ECRI Institute in 2008.

ECRI Institute founder Dr. Joel Nobel dies at 79

By Sabriya Rice
Posted: August 19, 2014 - 7:45 pm ET

Dr. Joel Nobel, who founded the not-for-profit ECRI Institute in 1968 to address safety, quality and costs issues in the field of healthcare, died last week at age 79, the organization said Tuesday.

The neurosurgeon, inventor and researcher was known for establishing programs to evaluate the safety of medical equipment used by hospitals, with a focus on human factors in healthcare design and settings.

“His mission in life was to make healthcare safer for patients,” said Anthony Montagnolo, ECRI Institute's chief operating officer. “He was dedicated to finding what was wrong, and not resting until it was changed.”

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Archive photo of Max Cart from ECRI
Archive photo of Max Cart from ECRI
Photo credit: ECRI Institute
Nobel died at home in Gladwyne, Pa., Aug. 13. His colleagues did not know the cause of death.

Nobel gained notoriety in 1966 when his design of a medical emergency crash cart, called Max, was featured in Life Magazine. The mobile, self-contained, life-support cart essentially carried all the instruments and medical supplies that physicians needed for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, including a pneumatic cardiac compressor, electrocardiograph, respirator, pacemaker and intubation gear.

The original cart also recorded voice data to allow post-event analysis and systems improvements. When the cart was added to a Smithsonian medicine and science collection in 2010, the museum director described Nobel as a man who “paved the way to greater efficiency in American medicine.”

In a news release issued today, the ECRI Institute noted that Nobel provided hands-on leadership for 34 years, and his extensive biography points to a wealth of initiatives in which he participated. He used a federal grant to conceive a hospital emergency command system in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he contributed to the development of a universal medical device classification system and founded health device alerts publications. And he initiated an international working group to exchange information and undertake joint studies on medical equipment in the 1980s.

Nobel was still employed with the ECRI Institute at the time of his death, directing an initiative in the Middle East and working with the ministry of health in Ghana on medical technology, Montagnolo said.

Nobel was born Dec. 8, 1934, and grew up in Philadelphia. He held a bachelor's degree in English from Haverford College, a master's in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania, and a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College. Donations may be made in his memory to the American Diabetes Association, his obituary states.

Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHSRice

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