Surgical operation

How the future of healthcare innovation puts medics at the centre

Image credit: Morganka/Dreamstime

The Covid pandemic has seen hospital systems recreated and redefined. Those changes need to be reflected in the way medical equipment is conceived, designed, developed and improved.

Medics are often the pioneers of new solutions – they have the knowledge and ambition to make things better for patients. Yet when it comes to the adoption of medical innovation in healthcare settings their views are often ignored, and purchasing decisions left to management and procurement teams who lack understanding of how technologies and products will be used, or any direct experience of working in a clinical environment.

The misalignment between a product’s promise and its clinical reality ultimately hinders patient care, with doctors and nurses having to find workarounds for the product’s shortcomings in high-pressure, high-risk environments, such as an operating theatre. Over time, the lack of trust can undermine the successful adoption of new, efficient, lifesaving technologies in hospitals, with huge financial implications for medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies who are looking to get a return on their investment in developing ground-breaking innovations.

It doesn’t need to be that way.

There’s an opportunity for a new model for healthcare innovation where healthcare professionals, designers, medical device manufacturers, engineers and hospitals work in close collaboration through the entire process of development, from idea generation to manufacturing and deployment.

This model goes beyond the traditional realms of human-centred innovation to generate solutions that are grounded in clinical reality and has the power to influence the workflows and working culture inside hospitals. It is not only about harnessing the experience and ingenuity of medical staff, but also contributing to their wellbeing, leadership and empowerment.

Developed over the last four decades, the practice of human-centred design (HCD) – creating products, services and experiences that address the unmet needs of users – is one of the most transformational and commercially successful tools in innovation. But however insightful, HCD also has its limitations.

In healthcare, particularly when engaging with frontline staff, the process can lack the sensitivity, the language and the fidelity to capture a sophisticated clinical reality. In our efforts to build better products for patients, it is important to acknowledge the challenges we face when designing for hospital environments. At PDD, we propose a paradigm shift for healthcare innovation – a model that builds on human-centred principles, puts medics at the centre, and considers the wider ecosystem and the role that access, data protection, adoption of new technologies and staff motivation have to play when it comes to success or failure.

By putting medics at the heart of innovation and combining the rigour and predictive power of medical and scientific research with the experimental nature of the design process, we have a unique opportunity to accelerate healthcare innovations in meaningful, relevant ways. In order to do this, we need to consider a new type of model that redefines the way in which medical staff are involved and the organisational boundaries that have the potential to stifle innovation.

When we align new ideas with medical needs and give medics a position of leadership, with control and ownership over the tools and processes they use, we can reduce the time it takes to enact change and scale healthcare innovations in ways that were not previously possible.

Now, more than ever, medical staff need to feel valued and motivated. Post-Covid, our hospital systems have been recreated and redefined, and those changes need to be reflected in the way medical equipment is conceived, designed, developed and improved. In a traditional model of product or technology development a solution may be handed over to industry when it is of sufficient maturity and provenance. What’s needed is a new form of innovation model where medical staff remain involved throughout and a partnership is developed that allows for a co-evolution of solutions.

There are many advantages of involving medical professionals directly in the generation of new solutions, with tangible research data and case studies available to support the creation of a new model that combines rigour and predictive power of medical and scientific research with the experimental nature of the design process to accelerate medical innovation.

As we come out of the pandemic, it’s vital we capitalise on the lessons learned and continue to understand the transformative nature of technology and innovation with healthcare. However, in the rush to keep innovating and moving forward, we can’t lose sight of the end patient and the healthcare teams implementing the systems we introduce, and ensuring we get them involved from the outset.

Dr Chris Vincent is principal for human factors and ergonomics and sector lead for healthcare at design and innovation consultancy, PDD.

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