6 Things I learned as a product manager in the medical device industry

After almost 4 years in the medical device industry, I had the privilege of meeting and working with so many interesting people from different fields. I never thought that I would, as an MD, collaborate with designers, engineers, data scientists, developers, economists, and marketers on finding ways to deliver better care to patients by providing a service or building a product. This has been such a fun and insightful journey, so I wanted to share the most important things I learned from my (modest) experience so far. With a hope that they will be useful to CEOs and startups trying to build #medicaldevices, but also to my diverse colleagues and friends who are trying to find their way in the industry, here they are:

1. Being problem-led vs. solution-driven — I heard this phrase from the @HS Healthtech podcast and @JamesSomauroo’s conversation with @VivienneParry, and it resonated so much with what I have experienced so far — the mission of every company and product in healthcare should be to identify and solve a problem that, if solved, would help patients receive better care and empower them in doing so. Regardless of the technology that may be in development or on the market, starting from the “we have this technology, and it will solve any kind of problem” will undoubtedly lead to frustration, but also to significant delays in the development process.

2. Perform workshops and crucial meeting in person — Perhaps this goes against the push toward remote meetings (as I mostly work remotely myself), but when starting projects or reaching key milestones, I would definitely recommend doing those sessions in person whenever possible, especially when there are more than 5 people involved. The speed of communication is significantly higher, and I felt at times that what took me 1 or 2 days to accomplish in person would have taken me at least a month, or even more. Sessions where product specification is laid out or user journeys are created, or when study protocols are developed, are highly complex and require several hours of focus, and I personally just can’t imagine doing those sessions remotely. Kudos to @AJ&Smart, from whom I have learned so much when it comes to organizing workshops and maximizing efficiency in such meetings.

3. Regulations, Regulations, Regulations — The medical device industry is unique for its regulatory framework, which is logically there to prevent unsafe or poorly performing products from ever reaching the market and causing harm to patients. That is why the regulatory aspects of building a medical device need to be taken into account at the earliest stage, instead of thinking about them at the very end. By the time the product has been developed or manufactured, it is too late to frame it into the regulations, and the countless iterations of your product (and your company processes) that are required by your regulatory consultant will drain your funds within months. I cannot emphasize the importance of having a regulatory consultant in your core team, or at least a person familiar with this space.

4. Be realistic about deadlines — The roadmap from inception to the market is quite longer than most CEOs and investors can understand, especially because of the mentioned regulations that guide medical device product development every step of the way. Without a regulatory strategy laid out in the business plan (and budget), no company will ever reach the market and sell a device — especially with the upcoming medical device regulations (#MDR), which have raised the standards that each device and company must conform to before getting approval (a #CEmark).

5. Educate yourself continuously — The medical device industry is moving quickly, and keeping up-to-date with the latest news and trends in the industry have helped me tremendously in my everyday work — mostly to keep me calm and knowing that I am thinking of the right things when working on products.

  • For regulatory discussions, I listen/read to content provided from @GreenlightGuru, and @MonirElAzzouzi’s “Easy medical device” podcast
  • For amazing stories of existing/new #healthtech companies and products, I listen to @HS Healthtech podcast, and read @mobihealthnews for latest trends, new devices, acquisitions, and funding.
  • Some people that I follow on #twitter that have given me tremendous value are @MedDevLegal, @HughHarvey and Hardian Health, as well as @EricTopol
  • For non-medical skills and advice, I definitely use @AJ&Smart Youtube videos on how to conduct effective meetings and workshops (both remote and in-person). @TheFutur has been instrumental in understanding the fundamentals of design and communication with clients/users on defining the actual problem.

The most important thing I learned, however, is that patients are the cornerstone of every product, and they should be included in product development from the very beginning. Listening to their stories, the ways in which they are battling with their illnesses or problems have given me so much perspective on what should we do with our products — we are here to help the patients, not the other way around. The concept of listening to people that are using your product or service and understanding their feedback must be engrained into our mind — it is the only way of establishing a long-lasting and trustworthy relationship.

Clinician at Huma, PhD student of Public Health focusing on hospital-acquired infections in ICUs. Building medical devices.