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Health Equity and Sustainable Innovation in MedTech through Human-Centered-Design

Design thinking also referred to as human-centered design, is a method of problem-solving that places the needs and experiences of individuals at the forefront of the design process. It involves understanding the challenges and limitations of the intended audience and using that understanding to create functional, meaningful, and desirable solutions.



Imagine a chef trying to create a new dish. The chef would not simply combine random ingredients and hope for the best. Instead, the chef would carefully consider the culture, mood, flavours, and textures most appealing to the diners, along with the challenges and barriers, such as common allergies and avoided foods in that region. This is similar to how human-centered design works. The designer would not create a solution without considering the needs and preferences of the people for whom the solution is being designed. The designer would carefully consider their needs and desires to create a functional and desirable solution, much like the chef considers the preferences of their diners in creating a dish. 


The design thinking process typically follows these steps: empathy, definition, ideate, prototype, and test.


Empathy involves understanding the needs and experiences of the intended audience through research and observation. The defining step involves identifying the problem to be solved based on the gathered information about the audience. Ideation involves generating ideas for potential solutions. Prototyping allows for the testing and improvement of these ideas by creating physical or digital models. Testing involves presenting prototypes to the intended audience and gathering feedback to inform further iteration


The importance of design thinking lies in its ability to produce solutions that cater to the needs and desires of the intended audience. It promotes collaboration and iteration, allowing for a diverse range of perspectives and the continuous improvement of ideas.

Additionally, design thinking can be applied across various fields and industries, including product design, marketing, education, and healthcare. Design thinking is a valuable tool for creating solutions that prioritize the human experience. It is a process that fosters collaboration, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the intended audience and has wide-reaching applications.


Challenges in creating a sustainable MedTech and Healthcare Innovation


Sustainable innovation in the medical technology and healthcare sectors is not without its challenges:


  • Financial constraints, regulatory barriers, a lack of awareness among stakeholders, technological limitations, and cultural and organizational barriers are all potential obstacles that must be overcome. For example, implementing sustainable innovations may require significant financial investments that may be difficult to secure given budget constraints. 

  • Regulatory barriers may prevent the adoption of certain innovations or make it difficult for new products or technologies to come to market. 

  • Stakeholders such as healthcare professionals and patients may not be aware of the benefits of sustainable innovation or may not prioritize it, making it difficult to gain support for these initiatives. 

  • Technological challenges may also arise, requiring the development of new technologies or the application of existing technologies in new ways.

  • Finally, cultural, and organizational barriers, such as resistance to change and difficulties in aligning the goals and incentives of different stakeholder

         can also hinder the implementation of sustainable innovations.


How Design Thinking can accelerate Health Equity and Sustainable Innovation for different segments:


To successfully adopt these innovations, it is necessary to address these challenges and find different approaches that help navigate them to promote sustainability while maintaining business continuity. 

Too many mHealth projects falter due to simplistic assumptions about end-user preferences and activities, or because large-scale implementations are far more complex than small trials.

Issues of poor scalability and reliability have long plagued the field of medical technology. Many technological solutions developed to address medical problems fail to reach all sections of society or achieve their intended goals due to complexities and 'wicked' problems. These issues can be attributed, in part, to a lack of sufficient research, testing, iteration, and adaptation in the development process.


One of the significant challenges in medical technology is scalability, or the ability to implement and utilize technology on a larger scale effectively. Many medical technologies are developed with a specific group or population in mind. Still, they fail to consider the needs and realities of other groups, which can lead to a lack of adoption and utilization of the technology, ultimately hindering its effectiveness and impact.


Another issue is the reliability of medical technology trials. The complexity of the medical field and patients' diverse needs and preferences can make it difficult to test and evaluate the effectiveness of a technology accurately. This can lead to the failure of technology to deliver its intended benefits or even harmful consequences for patients.

To address these issues, a new approach is needed in the development of medical technology. This approach focuses on understanding end users' needs and preferences and designing solutions tailored to meet those needs. 

The six principles of human-centred design according to the International Standards Organization (ISO, 2010)


  • The design process is based on thoroughly understanding the users, tasks, and environment

  • Users are actively involved in the design and development process

  • The design is evaluated and refined based on user feedback

  • The process is ongoing and involves multiple iterations

  • The design considers the entire user experience, including the context in which the user uses the product

  • The design team is diverse and includes a range of disciplines and perspectives

Human-centered design can potentially improve the scalability and reliability of medical technology. By considering the needs and realities of diverse users, technology can be more widely adopted and utilized.

Additionally, by iterating and adapting based on user feedback and testing, technology can be more reliable and effective in achieving its intended goals.


Sustainable innovation is a growing trend in the healthcare and medical technology sectors. Telemedicine, for instance, allows healthcare professionals to deliver medical services remotely, reducing the need for patients to travel long distances and the associated environmental impact. E-prescribing systems can minimize the use of paper prescriptions and improve patient safety. 


Medical products that prioritize sustainability, such as biodegradable single-use devices, are also being developed.  Hospitals and other healthcare facilities utilize renewable energy sources, including solar panels and wind turbines, to reduce their carbon footprint and decrease energy costs. Furthermore, sustainable healthcare facilities are being designed and constructed with features like green roofs and energy-efficient materials to minimize their environmental impact.


Case Study:


Witness the transformative power of Design Thinking in driving innovation across product development and business models. Take, for instance, a scenario where a company grappled with the challenge of making capital equipment for brain surgical procedures accessible in emerging markets.


Initially met with resistance due to its hefty price tag exceeding $1M, traditional approaches fell short in addressing the market's needs. Enter Design Thinking—a catalyst for uncovering unmet needs and redefining solutions. Rather than simply slashing costs, the company embarked on a journey to understand the intricacies of the care pathway in emerging markets.


Through empathetic research and user-centric insights, Design Thinking illuminated a critical revelation: smaller cities lacked trained clinicians and were deterred by exorbitant capital investments. This insight paved the way for a groundbreaking approach that merged product innovation with a reimagined business model.

The result? A revolutionary system that transcends traditional boundaries. Enter the era of portability and accessibility, where hospitals in Tier 2 towns can lease the equipment for short durations. Patients, once marginalized by geographical constraints, now have access to life-saving procedures in their communities.



But the innovation doesn't stop there. By orchestrating a network where doctors travel to these towns, patients receive the care they deserve, while the equipment seamlessly transitions to the next hospital—a testament to efficiency and adaptability.


This fusion of product and business model innovation not only addresses market needs but also champions health equity. It's a paradigm shift—a testament to the profound impact of Design Thinking in reshaping industries and fostering inclusivity.


In essence, this remarkable journey exemplifies the potential of Design Thinking to transcend conventional boundaries, challenge norms, and unlock new possibilities. It's a testament to the transformative power of empathy, creativity, and collaboration in driving meaningful change and enabling a future where innovation knows no bounds.


Conclusion:

The human-centered design could be a promising solution based on heavy research, testing, iteration and adaptation. By considering the human element at every stage of the development process, technology can be better suited to addressing the complex and diverse challenges of the medical field.



The article is co-authored by Anurag Asthana & Shipra Bhutada


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