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Why the Empowered Patient is the Key to MedTech Innovation

Posted by Andrew Wilson on Mon, Feb 11, 2013

The Cost of CareWhile the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief that the fiscal cliff threat is behind us, the MedTech industry is feeling the pain of the new medical device excise tax, a part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  While it remains to be seen whether the promised influx of patients resulting from the ACA will ultimately generate enough revenue to offset the tax, looking at the current state of US healthcare (Click on Figure 1 for Larger Version) it is painfully clear that additional tax revenue alone is not the solution; rising costs must be addressed in a meaningful way. 

Innovation to develop products, services, and systems that are more effective and efficient is critical to solving the healthcare cost problem. While the majority of MedTech organizations historically focused their sales and service efforts on their relationship with physicians, there is an increasingly vocal group, including doctors, patient advocates, and policy makers, who believe the key to healthcare innovation lies in empowering patients. Because patients ultimately make decisions about things like diet, exercise, when to seek treatment, and disease management, they have an enormous influence on the cost and the effectiveness of their own care.  In fact, some believe that 80% or more of healthcare decisions are made by patients, not medical professionals. The idea is that if we can empower people to be more informed and engaged in their care decisions, they will be the driving force behind improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system. 

Assuming the care system does evolve in a way that empowers patients, many MedTech organizations will be under increased pressure to incorporate features in their products that impact patient’s behaviors and help them make better lifestyle decisions.  For example, imagine a pacemaker that can provide a patient with information in real time through a smart phone app that will help him become more conscious of decisions about sleep, diet, and exercise.  These types of patient empowering innovations have the potential to dramatically change healthcare in the US (and worldwide).  And MedTech companies have the opportunity to drive this change; however it will require a shift in how they have traditionally learned about their markets.

As MedTech companies race to innovate, they will likely hold internal brainstorming sessions, meet with physician advisory boards, and speak to their sales and customer service groups. The problem with these approaches is that it leaves out the most critical component— the patient, the key to successful innovation.  To generate this intimate knowledge of patients, organizations need a plan—a change from how MedTech organizations traditionally approach innovation.  One that does the following:

  1. Identifies what customers ultimately want and need from their healthcare.  Talk to patients living with the disease state; understand their daily struggles, and what would improve their healthfulness.

  2. Prioritize what matters most to patients based on the most pressing needs of the patients; organizations should not invest time and money in trying to address each item identified by patients.  Fortunately, all wants and needs were not created equal. Instead, companies should focus on developing solutions that address those needs that are most important to healthcare consumers.  Additionally, there are likely groups of patients that have different priorities, and organizations should consider whether and how they address these different groups.

  3. Translates these prioritized wants and needs into solutions.  Armed with a detailed understanding of what matters to healthcare consumers, organizations can apply their expertise to develop elegant solutions that satisfy the most critical unmet needs.

  4. Establishes metrics that indicate whether the solutions they have developed are truly empowering healthcare consumers and adding value to the system.

MedTech companies face a future of great uncertainty and opportunity; however it seems clear that in the empwered patient CMBcontext of the Affordable Care Act and the evolving nature of today’s care model, patients are going to become increasingly important.  MedTech companies will need healthcare consumer insight programs to uncover the wants and needs of their patients and discover the addressable white space. Their intimate understanding of their patients is enabling them to pull ahead and gain a decided competitive advantage.The winners aren’t going to be those who bring solutions to market first but instead those who can translate deep insight of patients into game changing products and services. 

Andrew runs CMB’s MedTech practice and has spent the better part of the past decade helping some of the most successful MedTech companies make difficult strategic decisions.  In his free time, Andrew enjoys scrubbing into tracheotomies with clients, and running with his dog Moby.

Topics: technology research, healthcare research, customer experience and loyalty