Medical products need to demonstrate clinical value. Who would argue with that premise? But that's just the entry point for a product's success. In today's markets, a product must also demonstrate "economic" value and "human" value. In other words, to be widely adopted and exhibit staying power a product must also be cost-effective for its purchaser and friendly toward its user. Hence, "cost" and "design" are my watchwords this month.
|Healthcare Costs Are Killing Us
While not literally true, that's the theme of a recent cover story in Time magazine: "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us". It's a lengthy, somewhat rambling piece that could easily have been much shorter in delivering its message. However, for the general audience of this magazine it tells a gruesome story very convincingly.
There's little doubt that the US healthcare system is far too expensive for the value delivered. The author, Steven Brill, shines his spotlight on several widely recognized offenders: hospitals, drug firms, tort lawyers, and governments. But device makers don't escape his wrath; he thinks their gross margins are excessive. Interestingly, Medicare comes off convincingly as an efficiently-run hero.
You can be sure that cost control will be a watchword in US healthcare for the foreseeable future. Hospitals will be pressured to deliver more for less. And hospitals will surely exert pressure on device makers to try to protect provider margins. Supplier margins may or not be "excessive", but you can be sure that their margins can only be protected through effective controls on their costs of goods. So they must somehow make it for less or design it to cost less. That's a message we should not fail to receive and act upon.
I dealt with some of the specifics of addressing better economic outcomes along with better clinical outcomes in a white paper for MDD Perspectives. You can read those thoughts here.
How Friendly Is Your Design?
I've spent much of my industrial career trying to recognize and direct good product design. I'm certainly not a competent industrial designer but, like you, I think I know good product design when I experience it. Humane product design is extremely important to the initial adoption and longevity of medical products. I believe that.
Whether or not you also believe that, I recommend a few recent articles that broach the subject. Heather Thompson recounts the difficulties, and ultimate tragedy, of a cancer patient dealing with a poorly designed IV pump at home. Jamie Hartford recounts a conversation with Craig Lauchner, an innovation program manager at Medtronic, who shares a technique he calls "assumption storming" to break out of comfortable but restrictive patterns of thinking. Brian Buntz recounts some views of Stacey Chang, an associate partner at IDEO, on drawing comparisons between medical-product and consumer-product design.
Each of these short pieces is instructive. Together they may reinforce (or change) your views on the importance of user-friendly medical-product design.