Why Medical Device Companies Struggle To Design Home-Use Products

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A few generations ago, a single computer filled up an entire room. The brightest engineers in the world were responsible for creating it, and either they or their highly skilled technicians were the only ones who could use it. Today, we all have a high powered computer in our pocket that can be used by a toddler. Over the years, three main forces enabled that shift from mainframe to pocket: the pursuit of technology, the requirements of business, and the needs of computer users.

Long ago, technology and business drove the computer industry. With the PC revolution came the recognition that attention needed to be paid not just to the needs of early adapter techno-geeks, but the masses of people who would comprise the primary market for computers.

Our entire U.S. healthcare system is at a similar fulcrum point. Decades of focus on business and technology has left the people it serves paying too much and getting poor service. In hopes of establishing balance, our government stepped in and created the Affordable Care Act. This legislation has accelerated an exodus of medical care and products from hospitals into the home environment.

Sound familiar? Like the computer industry of the past decades, advanced, high-cost medical technologies designed for highly trained experts are going to increasingly show up at everyone’s doorsteps. Medical product companies often struggle to meet the needs of this new user group of customers. The path to success requires thinking and acting more like a consumer product company. Here are five important challenges for medical companies to consider when making the shift:

1. Include a Product’s Appeal to Emotions in the Discussion

We’ve all come home from the store with products we don’t need, right? Let’s just say our purchase decisions aren’t always all that rational. Deep psychological forces are at play, driving us to buy things that tease our emotions. Making purchases for ourselves, friends, or loved ones is a personal journey.

The purchase criteria used by hospital procurement staff couldn’t be any different. A committee creates a checklist and an individual searches for the product that checks the most boxes. In an effort to meet the needs of hospitals and have their products chosen, manufacturers shape their product design requirements from these lists.

To best meet home-use needs, creating an emotional connection should be at the top of your development team’s requirements.

2. Understand that Consumers Have Many Options

Next time you’re buying something on Amazon, stop and take note of the sheer volume of options presented by your search. Our connected world gives us access to almost unlimited choices, so consumer product companies are constantly improving their techniques in the fight for our attention.

Medical product manufacturers have never had to fight for attention in that way or at that scale. They typically only need to convince one person at a hospital to buy their product to achieve the result of hundreds or thousands of people using it.

Companies wishing to bring medical products into our everyday lives will need to adopt a new marketing and sales approach so we can find them in a crowded marketplace.

3. Design to Delight People, Not Appease the FDA

The top consumer product companies focus on delighting their customers with their brand or product at every interaction. This pursuit drives their business decisions and gives direction to all their product development initiatives.

The top priority for medical manufacturers is to get the FDA’s approval so they can sell their product. The approval process is so intense and important that unfortunately it can become the driving force behind business and development decisions. These companies will need to fundamentally shift the way they think to design products that will compete in home-use markets.

Remember at all times that the user, not the FDA, is your customer.

4. Seek Simplicity

The most successful consumer product companies invest heavily in designing products that are simple and intuitive. They know that the first thing people do after they open the box is throw away the user manual, if indeed there even was one. The expectations people have for simplicity has raised the bar for consumer product makers.

Medical product companies are required by the FDA to provide some combination of labeling, instructions for use, and/or training to mitigate risk of bodily harm. The unintended consequence is a bunch of places to file away excuses for design inadequacies.

Good design includes cues that instinctively eliminate hazards or points of frustration.

5. Accommodate a Wide Range of Use Environments

The best consumer products are designed to follow us wherever we go and enhance our lives. Those companies intentionally design products that adapt to a broad range of use-cases and environments.

Hospitals are comprised of many different, well defined areas. If a device is being designed for surgery in the U.S. for example, it’s easy to determine the environmental requirements related to light, sound, temperature, humidity, and physical space. Designing for seemingly endless and unknown use-cases will push medical product designers out of their comfort zones.

A well designed product for home use starts with clearly understanding the variety of users and their environments

These are just five of the many challenges medical product companies face as they leave the hospital in search of new business opportunities. As they take giant leaps forward, medical product makers are uniquely positioned to learn from the history of the PC industry. Invest heavily in understanding the needs of your customers and solving their problems. Delight them at all costs. Get your technology right, but remember people don’t really care about what’s under the hood. Establish a sound business plan, find balance, and thrive.

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