Blog Series Part 4: What Clinicians actually do in medical device companies?

Clinicians should be aware of many aspects of healthcare product development once they join a healthtech startup or company. But:

What is our role in the company?

How do we use our clinical knowledge and background?

What tasks do we do on a daily basis?

Which non-clinical skills should we possess?

These are the questions that I will try to answer in this part of the blog series.

In the first post of the series, I explained that clinicians have a unique role of being involved in a variety of areas required to build healthcare products (called medical devices, regardless if it is hardware or software). Therefore, our role can be roughly described through two titles:

Clinical advisors/consultants or Clinical product managers.

In the first scenario, our input is mostly informative and used as helpful information, whereas in the second we take ownership of the decisions that are being made about the entire product.

What do we do as clinical advisors?

Conduct research relevant to the product and present it internally — Depending on the product you are trying to build and its value proposition, you as a clinician know how to retrieve information from medical literature. This gives us the ability to quickly find information about:

  • The problem you are trying to solve — details about a particular disease/process/service and the characteristics of patients/healthcare professionals involved. (I equate this to user research)
  • How is this problem currently solved — What is the gold standard you are trying to improve upon, what is good about it, what can be improved, where are the gaps.
  • The actual value of introducing your product — will it solve a problem, or just create additional effort for everyone involved?

This information is essential to make an informed commercial or product decision, and will immediately point the product development process in the right direction. If this is not done early on, there is a high risk a lot of effort and resources will be allocated to something that won’t be successful but could be better built with 10 minutes of your research.

Interact with and listen to clients to understand their challenges — As a clinician, you will be able to listen to clients and (without a commercial hat on) truly understand the problem they are attempting to solve. And believe me, clinical experience will be more than sufficient for you to be in a room with any client, whether they come from academia, clinical practice, the pharma industry, or any other domain of healthcare. Your interpretation of their story will be very important in further scoping of your product and the overall project.

Conduct presentations of products to clients or at least attend them — Although this might be stressful at times, taking your clients through the product as a clinician is a valuable experience. On one hand, it will force you to really go into the depths of your product and understand how it works (who knows what you might find!). On the other, you will be able to answer most (if not all) questions that do come up during the presentation. Our commercial or design colleagues might not be best suited to answer some of the questions, so having that clinical presence gives a different weight to the conversation.

What changes when you are a Clinical Product Manager?

Ownership of the product — From creating product specifications and user journeys to ensuring regulatory compliance and client/user satisfaction, you become the driver of all the activities. It is an intense role with numerous internal interactions with engineers, designers, regulatory consultants, data protection officers, and the business in general. Essentially, your job is to align all of these efforts to ensure the product will get delivered according to its predefined specification.

Ownership of the client relationship — Since you become the person that is essentially “owning” the product, you also become the main point of interaction with the client for whom you are developing your product. While being a large responsibility, it gives you all the time to speak and engage with them to resolve any open questions you might have. Delivering the product as intended never goes smoothly, so you will have to be able to navigate through all the challenges that arise.

Having a say in business decision-making — Being so knowledgeable about the product puts you at the table when discussing the value of your product — How impactful do you think this will be? What proportion of the problem will it solve? How many patients will it help? How much time will clinicians save by using this product? These are all questions that you will have to be able to answer in some shape or form. Creating healthcare economic models, or just simple business projections might be something you should be comfortable about.

For most of the activities mentioned above, I strongly believe clinicians already possess all the necessary knowledge and communication skills to perform them successfully and efficiently. However, there are various tools that must be mastered in order to become comfortable in those situations. For this reason, I recommend getting acquainted with the following pieces of software:

  • Presentation/slide deck tools — Whether it’s Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google slides, presenting the results of your research is something you probably did during your studies or if you had any academic experience. However, the simplicity and clarity with which you deliver your findings can significantly help in internal discussions, so being savvy with creating (and delivering) such presentations is a significant benefit for you.
  • User journey/flow maps — Whenever I am thinking about the journey through which a patient or a clinician goes, I often want to draw stuff. But using a piece of paper might not be the best way of sharing your findings with a group. So, I use Miro, a (free!) digital whiteboard, on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but other tools like Mural or Google’s Jamboard are also great for you to sketch things out and talk about them with your colleagues.
  • Documentation/Task tools — Although this might seem obsolete by now, properly managing your documentation and activities using collaborative tools such as Google Drive, Asana, Jira, Trello, or other tools is crucial. Painful at first, yes, but once you get accustomed, it enhances the work of everyone involved in building your product, especially when being a clinical product manager.

The role of clinicians in healthtech companies is complex and can vary from advising and consulting to owning the entire product and managing its development. Fortunately, we have acquired most of the skills needed to fit into that role during our studies and clinical practice. But just like in medicine, new tools and gadgets are being released all the time, and so our main task is to get familiar with the tools we need to do our job well — release new medical devices for our patients and healthcare professionals.

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