Medical product development efforts are often undertaken with the objective of introducing a new technology or implementing improvements to an existing one. Companies spend a lot of time and resources on the functionality, aesthetics and ergonomics of their solution, confident that their product will be a winner. And yet, most new products fail in the marketplace. How can companies carry out medical product development in a way that increases the chance of market success?

The most effective way is to know from the outset where innovation efforts should be focused. That is not as obvious as it seems. Commonly, companies focus their efforts in areas where their marketing/sales arms have identified an opportunity. Usually that comes from speaking with customers about their frustrations with current products, or improvements they’d like to see, or via focus group studies. That is fine as far as it goes, but it’s a limited approach that will only scratch the surface. The real opportunity for innovative, breakthrough products that will achieve market success lies in uncovering the unmet needs of users that they themselves don’t recognize and can’t articulate. Doing so leads to the development of medical devices and products that solve significant problems for users, solutions that they’ll find valuable and will be willing to pay for.

If users themselves can’t recognize and articulate their hidden needs, how can those needs be uncovered? By observing, studying and analyzing how users employ the product in the environment and context of actual practice. People become accustomed to carrying out their work with the tools that are available to them. Even if those tools are sub-optimal, users find a way to work within and around the limitations. Eventually they become so inured to product deficiencies that they’re taken for granted. Further, medical products are rarely used in isolation. They’re used in conjuction with other products, within a workflow system, and in environments in which their use is influenced by a host of variables. All of those influences and variables can impact the way products are used, often in ways not intended by the designers. Only by directly observing the system as a whole will the surprising insights be revealed that lead to innovative medical product design and development.