Annelies Tjebbes

Optimizing Medical Device Design Value AND Innovation

innovation & value

innovation & value

I am a strong believer in optimizing medical device design.  Innovation (the act of developing or introducing something new) and value (merit or utility) are best when paired hand in hand.  If you generate value without innovation (ex. marginal improvement in glucose monitoring technologies), you are creating an incremental change that doesn’t address the root cause of a problem (addressing obesity and driving down the prevalence of diabetes).  On the other hand, if you create innovation without value (ex. developing a new technology for entering patient data in a hospital when there are already efficient systems in place) you are trying to force a change that likely won’t be sustainable. As I discussed in a blog on Polarity Thinking, it is important to balance potential competing priorities (such as innovation and value creation) in order to deliver optimal results and thus optimize medical device design.

In the world of medical device development, innovation is at its best when creating value and improving health outcomes for patients – such as in artificial pacemakers which help patients lead relatively normal lives even when faced with heart rhythm issues.  Ensuring that medical innovation begins with value can help a new development gain market acceptance and secure a product’s place within the industry – take for example the invention of the automatic tourniquet which rapidly spread to operating rooms worldwide and is still used today. Most importantly, innovation fueled by value creation can help save lives, or improve quality of life for patients.

A vital question to ponder before diving head first into innovation is: For whom should we be creating value?  Is it best to focus on value creation for patients? For doctors? For hospital purchasing departments?

Anthony Ulwick. author of “What Customers Want” (on how to create breakthrough products and services), discusses the importance of determining where to focus in the value chain in order to maximize value creation.  Though it would be ideal to create improvements for an entire system, this can be extremely challenging.  It is best practice to classify stakeholder groups within the healthcare system and to determine what value could be created for each market segment.

Identifying who you aim to create value for will also help you identify important contacts for building customer input.  Market research and the development of a requirements document can go awry if you focus on the wrong market segment.  It is especially important in research and customer engagement to make a distinction between the buyer, the user and the benefactor.  In many cases, the buyer is the purchasing department at a hospital or clinic, the user is a medical practitioner such as a doctor, nurse or paramedic, and the benefactor is the patient. This distinction is important because in order to sell a device, you need to appeal to the buyer, but users also need to see the benefit of the device or they won’t use it.

So, where to focus?  I like how a recent Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship course  framed the answer: “In a well-functioning healthcare system, the creation of value for patients will determine rewards for all system actors”.  This doesn’t mean the innovation has to happen at the patient level.  The innovation can happen at the user level (take for example the invention of minimally invasive surgical tools) and can often result in the most effective method for improving health outcomes at the patient level (in this case by drastically reducing patient recovery times for patients).  At StarFish we are often involved in user-level value creation and our Pathfinder review process helps kick start the process of identifying potential improvements in workflow and usability.

There are many different areas where one can add value to the healthcare system, starting from the beginning of the cycle of care at patient assessment, all the way through to rehabilitation and follow-up care.  If we focus on the interdependencies within the system, map out the stakeholders and their relationships, and understand the full cycle of care, then we are sure to discover opportunities for innovation that keep value for patients at their core.  I am proud to be part of an industry where I can see a direct correlation between innovation and value creation.  I’d love to hear how readers have dealt with innovation vs. value in optimizing medical device design.


Annelies is a Biomedical Engineer at StarFish Medical. A 2012 graduate of The University of British Columbia, Annelies blogs about her experiences transitioning from academics to entrepreneurial medical device commercialization.

Commercialization Consult

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