The Human Experience: How Patients Inspire Innovation and Why Medtech Should Listen

Rather than look at patient-inspired innovation as a problem or an expensive change, the medtech industry can see the shift as an opportunity to help people live healthier lives.

Heather R. Johnson

September 29, 2017

4 Min Read
The Human Experience: How Patients Inspire Innovation and Why Medtech Should Listen

Innovation has driven medtech to varying extents for decades. Healthcare relies on innovation in processes and procedures to improve operations and patient outcomes. Now, with an increased focus decreased spending and increased quality, innovation has never been more important.

As healthcare systems focus on outcomes rather than services, medtech companies are taking a more holistic approach to development. According to a PwC Health Research Institute report, as a "direct response to an increasingly modular, plug-and-play health ecosystem defined by consumer needs and desires," manufacturers and developers are evolving into problem solvers.

During The MedTech Conference, powered by AdvaMed, the healthcare and medtech communities joined forces to understand how patients inspire innovation. Discussions centered on patient-centered, outward-looking technology with an emphasis on data and patient engagement. The medtech CEO, physician, and hospital executive all consider innovation differently, but they all have the patient as the muse.

What Patient-Inspired Innovation Means

Todd Dunn, innovation director for Intermountain Healthcare, said during a conference panel that his organization created a new initiative to put empathy at the forefront of innovation. He said Proctor & Gamble's "immersion research," where executives spend time in people's homes to understand what matters to them, inspired him to approach innovation differently.

"I realized we were doing the wrong thing in healthcare," he said. "We weren't focusing in the context of where people live, work, learn, pray, and play." To change that, he helped create and now leads Design for People, which uses empathy as a tool to put people, not systems, at the center of design. Its team currently uses direct observation to assess endoscopy, allergy-immunology, and integrated care management programs.

Eric Stone, CEO and cofounder of Velano Vascular, which develops needle-free blood draw devices, agreed, noting that our healthcare system has historically treated problems rather than patients. "Many times the structure and process that leads to quality and safety dampens the reality of what the patient feels and experiences," he said. "It's the approach to treating the whole person and not just the disease that's essential."

Patient-Inspired Medtech in Action

Medical devices largely haven't delivered the outcomes hoped for, Dunn said. Now, as healthcare organizations shift to value-based reimbursement, device manufacturers must prove their products improve safety, quality, and outcomes.

"We need to measure whether we improve operational efficiency, and whether we ease the burden or improve the wellbeing of the person using that technology," said Bridget Duffy, MD, chief medical officer of Vocera Communications.

One way to improve wellbeing, and outcome, is by increasing patient engagement. New and established companies alike think "beyond the device," enhancing products with connectivity and offering features that benefit patients before, during, and after surgery.

St. Jude Medical recently introduced CardioMEMS™ HF, the first FDA-approved heart failure monitoring system. CardioMEMS uses a wireless sensor implanted in the pulmonary artery. The device uploads blood pressure readings, providing early warnings of heart failure. The system promises a 33% reduction in heart failure admissions, as well as an improvement in exercise capacity and quality of life.

In April 2016, Stryker launched JointCOACH, a digital patient engagement and education platform to help patients undergoing joint replacement surgery. JointCOACH is part of Stryker's Performance Solutions, a program that partners with hospitals, physicians and payors to improve results.

Stryker isn't the only major company to offer comprehensive solutions. According to the PwC report, five out of the top 10 medical device companies offer customized solutions independent of their product offerings, and seven have undergone organizational changes reflecting a shift toward service-based offerings.

Patient-Inspired Challenges

For all the benefits of taking a holistic approach, medtech faces no less challenge to get there. Duffy cited speed to adoption as an ongoing barrier. "We have so many antiquated and broken systems, in part because we've focused on the wrong thing," she said. "We need to listen to the patients, doctors, nurses, and frontline staff and cocreate design together."

Stone mentioned finding an ear willing to listen, with time to listen, as a hurdle when forming Velano Vascular. Lack of investment dollars also posed a challenge to development.

"We're looking to hospitals as investors, as well as high net worth individuals," he said. "Traditional VCs hesitate to invest because the runway for return is far longer and the actual returns appear to be smaller."

What Now?

Rather than look at patient-inspired innovation as a problem or an expensive change, medtech can see the shift as an opportunity to help people live healthier lives, which is really the only justification needed. "One opportunity we have as technology providers is to map the gaps in the human experience, from pre-arrival to post-discharge," said Duffy. "We can then find digital health solutions that restore those pieces to healthcare."

About the Author(s)

Heather R. Johnson

Heather R. Johnson is a consultant and writer for the medical and clinical technology industries. She’s based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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