Design Thinking in MedTech: The Challenges, the Need & the Reality

The greatest challenge in India’s MedTech space is to be able to solve a problem efficiently, impactfully and completely. With the need for MedTech solutions rising by the hour, the question arose, “How does one develop a robust MedTech product?”. The answer to that lies in applying design thinking at every stage of the product development journey.

To understand the importance of design thinking and its challenges, we interview Mr Arun Venkatesan, Co-Founder and CEO at Villgro USA. The insights he offered are useful for every stakeholder in the MedTech space. Here goes.

Design Thinking & MedTech Product Development

Just like a plant cannot grow without water, a robust MedTech product cannot be developed without the right design thinking. Unfortunately, in India, design thinking isn’t given the importance it needs. “Whenever there is a rushing of the design process, we end up designing in the field. If we continue designing the product as it moves closer to the end customer, designing gets more and more expensive”, shares Arun.

This is why it is essential to incorporate design thinking principles right at the beginning of developing a MedTech solution. But what happens when the right design thinking is not carried out during the product development journey?

Arun answers, “The moment a product goes out for validation to friends and family customers; they will get a bad impression about the product. It will undo a lot of goodwill created. If you still don’t refine designing at this stage and the product goes out to the end customer, the stakeholders of the market start seeing that, undermining the credibility of your organisation and your product” and adds, “A lot of decisions in MedTech are based on data, comfort level and the ability to guarantee an outcome. If your design fails, the outcome cannot be guaranteed, and the customer is not happy to use your MedTech product.”

Challenges Faced for Design Thinking in the MedTech Ecosystem in India

  1. Immediate Cost for Design Thinking

Due to the high immediate cost of design thinking, MedTech entrepreneurs tend to skip on the entire process or do not do it comprehensively. However, if you miss on design-thinking in the initial stages, it will cost a lot more later, as Arun shared.

  1. Recruiting & Retaining Talent

Another insight that we gained from our conversation with Arun was that outsourcing, cutting corners, lack of analysis of the problem, etc. happens during the design thinking process due to the difficulty of recruiting and retaining the right people for the job. Without the right talent, the process does not get its due.

  1. Lack of Experience

Lastly, young MedTech entrepreneurs go the whole way without the proper research or mentorship required for design thinking. To solve the multi-dimensional design problems in the MedTech arena, gathering customer insights and market research is essential.

The Brilliant Story of Brilliance & Design Thinking Learnings

Arun was involved in the development of a MedTech product called ‘Brilliance’. It is a simple LED phototherapy device for treating neonatal jaundice. Although it was simple, it required a lot of design-thinking to stay in the market and make an impact. A non-profit from San Franciso had analysed the problem that Brilliance was trying to solve and came up with a prototype. They had done a comprehensive look at everything and then arrived at the design.

But having come into the regulatory and low-cost manufacturing for India, Arun and his team had to do many iterations to complete the design. Enough customer and market input was captured before the product was manufactured for the Indian market. Despite applying design thinking principles during the prototype stage, a lot more of it had to be done when the product was being tailored for the low-resource market.

Talking about his learnings, Arun shares, “Minimising the number of iterations is vital while designing. It happens with experience, the right team and the right relations. But most importantly, it happens with good design thinking. If you have looked at the problem comprehensively, spent a lot of time thinking about it and covered all the dimensions of it dealing with all the stakeholders, then the design time can be decreased. Invest time, money and experience into a proper design. It will lead to a shorter product development cycle, reducing the time to market.”

To create a robust MedTech product and incorporate the correct design thinking, the following need to be taken into account:

  • User insights
  • Market insights
  • Features to cost parameters
  • In-depth problem analysis
  • End-use-tailored solution

          Following the five stages of design, thinking can also go a long way in ensuring that the MedTech solution actually solves the problem. Read more here.

          Design Thinking is the Way to Go

          “We are all in here — startups, incubators, technology experts — we are all at the same table to solve a beneficiary problem. MedTech is a complicated ecosystem where there are multiple stakeholders. So unless you solve specific pain points for everybody in the ecosystem, the product does not get to the market, and the solution does not present itself to the beneficiary. So it is important that a lot of effort is put into the appropriate design so that you can deliver the solution,” concludes Arun.

          Here’s an interesting departing fact: McKinsey found that companies that use design thinking report third higher revenues and 56 percentage points higher returns than those that don’t.

          The significance of design thinking for the Indian MedTech space cannot be stressed enough. It’s time to embrace it for good!

          Author: Arun Venkatesan is the Co-founder and CEO of Villgro USA. Till June 2019, he was CTO of Villgro India, leading their health sector investments. He has over 15 years of experience in materials R&D, device development, and forward integration of technology into tangible, marketable entities. He has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and has done post-doctoral research in fuel-cell materials development and micro-fuel-cell fabrication

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