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Reducing the cost of healthcare through medical device design


Medical devices impact healthcare costs in many ways.  Healthcare cost is impacted via medical device production cost and price. It is impacted via the healthcare labor required to learn and use the product. Finally, it's impacted via the product's effect upon clinical efficacy.  Let's examine how medical device design by a good engineering development team can lower the cost of healthcare.

1.  Reducing medical device production cost and price requires that an engineering team optimize a product's design from the beginning.  Technical synergy, design elegance, and usability are best established during the concept and preliminary design phases of a product's development.  Functionality and manufacturability must be nurtured early, because correcting inherent disadvantages later is not near so effective.  Nobody wants to pioneer a new product only to have the competition find a clever way to undercut its cost.

For durable equipment and instrumentation products, a broad working knowledge of electronics, chemistry, mechanics, fluids, etc., can enhance product optimization.  Such knowledge enables a design engineering team to preview the downstream implications on performance, tolerances, manufacturability, maintainability, etc.  Likewise, for disposable products, experience with materials and myriad fabrication processes is essential to manipulating a design concept while simultaneously envisioning implications on tooling cost, production yield, secondary operations, etc.   Durable-disposable combination products (with the emphasis on reducing the cost of the disposable portion) require especially broad technical insight into all of the above.

2.  Reducing healthcare labor can enhance a medical device's attractiveness.  Valuable insight for this can come from talking with an anesthesiologist during surgery, peering through a surgeon's endoscope, or observing the bedside manner of an IV therapist.  A development engineer or product designer who is serious and tactful will find healthcare practitioners to be as co-operative as their institutions and ethics permit in allowing such first-hand exposure.  First-hand exposure to harried healthcare settings and personnel provides a vital frame of reference for designing labor-saving features and improved usability.

3.  Improved clinical efficacy can justify a new product's purchase.  Products enabling faster patient discharge and improved patient outcome don't just happen by chance.  Multi-disciplinary collaboration is vital to good medical device design.  Clinicians and other healthcare practitioners are the source of many outstanding product ideas.  A design engineer's comprehension of physiology and medicine enhances intelligent dialogue with healthcare professionals and medical researchers.  General appreciation of the business of healthcare improves collaboration with product management (marketing) and regulatory-affairs professionals.  Multi-disciplinary collaboration enables design of improved clinical efficacy.

In conclusion, healthcare cost is affected by medical device design in many ways.  Realize that the early-stage of a medical device's development is critically important to its outcome.  Insist upon a product development team that includes broad technical expertise, good biomedical / clinical familiarity, and ample medical industry experience.  All are vital to designing minimal cost and optimal function into a new medical device.   Good medical device design up-front can help to reduce the cost of healthcare and to improve the profitability of the medical device company.

-- Bob Reid / Principal / Reid Product Development
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