Unpacking ‘value’ in medical device development

Bill Evans


The word “value” is a loaded term. At every stage of healthcare, it takes on different meanings. But above all, it has become, alongside the term “innovation,” the most sought after attribute for medical technology.

“Most doctors are looking for value to patients and outcomes,”
explains Bill Evans, SVP Innovation at Bridge Design, a Ximedica company, and co-chair of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) Medical Design Conference, taking place in San Francisco Nov. 11 and 12.

“We titled the conference ‘From Volume to Value’ and decided to co-host the event with the UCSF department of Orthopedic Surgery precisely to broaden out the notion of what value means in healthcare. Designers and clinicians will get together to better understand each other’s perspective and encourage better collaboration between our disciplines.”

And at the macro level, says Evans, “patient outcomes are very important, but value is about more than just cost effectiveness. Many other stakeholders can get value out of well designed products and systems. For example, patients and caregivers can have better experiences and be more motivated to adhere to their treatment, manufactures can have more loyal customers, and healthcare workers less complex tasks. Ultimately getting these things right will help create more cost effective care as well.”

Matching outcomes to cost is dramatically important to the current and future healthcare model in the U.S. That’s why it is so critical for engineers and designers to listen to all stakeholders in the care continuum.

For example, says Evans, gaining access to clinicians is a notoriously difficult process. “As designers, our ability to design the best products is considerably helped by this access. But not only is it difficult to cultivate, it’s hard to maintain. There is pressure in the system that is making harder for designers to gain access to physicians.” Evans says it requires high investment in terms of time and energy, oversight to ensure the relationship retains integrity, and continued communication.

Evans, and IDSA have structured its upcoming medical conference precisely to enable designers to begin to improve our dialog with clinicians. “That interaction is exactly what designers want.”

And the benefits are not one-sided. Clinicians also want and need access to designers in order to ensure that the products being worked on will have real clinical value. The association partnered with UCSF, which has also seen an opportunity to improve the dialogue around medical design.

Evans says user-centered design should be at the fore of every medical technology on the market. And there are some systemic barriers to overcome. “We have to raise the level of discussion, not just of the nuts and bolts of design, but into systems thinking.”

Moving into systems thinking is a practical step that will come with redefining healthcare. But Evans says it also changes the thinking at a c-suite level. “We are using design to get people excited about the future of healthcare.”

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