Astero StarFish

Insights and observations that spark medtech innovation

Improve your medical device innovation process

 Medtech Innovation

Everyone has a mental toolkit of innovation – a series of patterns that innovative people find. They take something and they break it into pieces or they take pieces and put them together or they put things upside down or they hollow them out or they turn them inside out or they…what else do we do? We think about it backwards or what if some piece was missing. How much difference would that make with the outside in and inside out? What if we actually thought of it from the other perspective altogether?

Essentially a mental toolkit of medtech innovation is a set of somewhat independent tools that everybody can learn to use in some measure. People who are good at innovation could get better by being more aware of their “recipe book” as it were. By exercising the tools and recipes, you can come up with totally amazing solutions that you never thought existed and directions you didn’t expect to go in.

Have an indication for use. Design the right medical device. If you don’t have an indication for use, you don’t know what you’re designing. Who is your patient population? What condition? Those answers drive design inputs. Have the end goal in mind (indication for use) when you are innovating.

Make sure that for any device:

  • There is a regulatory path
  • You deeply understand the user and what they want or need
  • There is a reimbursement alignment
  • You can sell it at a price that makes economic sense.

That’s essentially Pathfinder.

Constraints are not really constraints, they’re more like guideposts. Gather constraints as best you can, then say, “Go at it and figure something out.” There is no better process than having a very lateral thinker in the middle of a bunch of constraints. Some people like to create a process around innovation. For them the process of innovation is to pre-invent the thing and then get people to commit to timelines and budgets, etc., but the biggest thing you need is blue sky thinking.

Be open to innovation. You’ve got to provide enough space and have an open enough mind to recognize that medtech innovation involves tripping over your feet a lot. That doesn’t mean you’re going fail, it just means that the first few ideas might be garbage! Which is totally fine. In fact, innovating is essentially a series of experiments.

It’s like the Pirate code! Characterize constraints as strong opinions loosely held. Take all those things you’ve talked about, and imagine they are things you can kick over. Then you can see how real each constraint really is. Don’t assume that all constraints are immovable. Challenge them: “Do we really have to do it this way? Everybody else does it that way, but what if we did something different?” That’s where innovation comes about. When you see what the right framework is and where the intent is, and go, “Hmm.” I think if we tried something different here it would really yield some value for the product, for the application, and for the standard of care, would that work for the user?

Question if the initial framework is the right problem to be thinking about. Creative personalities are okay with this process, but it makes everybody else crazy. Just play in that domain for a while and eventually things start to take shape. Trust that if you just stay at it for a while, something magical will happen. Then get the hell out of the way. Because if you are good at thinking that sort of thought, it’s unlikely you will be as good at implementing.

It’s really important to conduct user studies early on. For example, if you are developing a product device for diabetes patients, you might discover that most of diabetes patients have arthritis. Then you will realize that device doesn’t just need to deliver a drug, but also needs to be easy to use for people with dexterity issues. That is a secondary problem but it must be solved to be successful.

An experiment to test a hypothesis may produce results that affect all the other constraints. Unless you’re mentally flexible, you may not realize which needs must be addressed first.

There are always little tiny seeds of opportunities for more innovation. It doesn’t matter where you are in the development process. The seeds can be massively impactful or subtle. So often we get, “Okay we’ve done that. Now let’s just roar ahead. No more new ideas.” There are always people wanting to say, “Maybe, not right now.” Or “No”.” That doesn’t mean you can’t ask the question, it just means you might have to be open for a “no”, especially when it comes to big ideas.

A lot of insight comes from challenging assumptions. When you challenge what you think is the right path, a broader insight usually comes forward. Failing early, failing fast, failures. We learn mostly by failing. That often happens when challenging the subject and asking, “Why are we doing it this way?”  Those kinds of questions drive medtech innovation.

Pay attention to your intuition.

Allow innovation. Oftentimes people don’t really want to think about the big change that might happen if they open that can of worms. They’d rather just go “Lalalalalala. I thought we were on a path. Let’s just carry on.” This will type of thinking will often lead to those same issues coming back down the road.

Challenge assumptions. Challenge architecture and then just extrapolate. What if? Is there any other way we could do this thing. Is there any other way we could provide the features that we think we need in a simpler way, in a different way, in a more unified way. And then extrapolate. Start kicking it around the room, and maybe it smashes into a million pieces with the first half but maybe you start to realize it’s a pretty solid thing.

We had a great time discussing and brainstorming these medtech innovation ideas.  We’d love to hear feedback and more ideas from readers.

Astero StarFish is the attributed author of StarFish Medical team blogs.  We value teamwork and collaborate on all of our medical device development projects.

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