As COVID-19 continues to sicken thousands across the U.S., hospital staffs deserve every bit of praise they’re receiving for their service. Yet there’s another segment of the medical community on the front lines of the pandemic: medical device manufacturers.
While some forms of medical equipment have been marginalized or sidelined altogether, manufacturers of essential devices are working around the clock. According to an April 2020 Fortune Business Insights report, those with significant traction include makers of respiratory devices, ventilators, defibrillators, CT scanners, point-of-care diagnostics, and rapid diagnostics equipment.
Regardless of the category, medical device companies will face uncertainty and sudden shifts in priorities—which means design flexibility will be a critical component for business continuation.
One of the ways manufacturers are coping is by partnering with software development vendors who provide staffing agility as well as specialized expertise.
A key benefit of this strategy is the ability to design on a project basis without disrupting the normal development chain. The coronavirus pandemic is creating a huge need to produce specialized products quickly, from sterilization devices to laboratory equipment. Many of these projects are short-term; should an antibody testing device be needed immediately, for example, ad hoc engineering and software teams will need to jump in. Software partners can provide the necessary personnel to fill these challenging gaps.
Also helpful is the ability to gain granular expertise without heavy upfront investment. Embedded software is one area that requires extensive training, and it’s nearly impossible for a single OEM to stay up-to-date on all the latest advances and technologies. Yet for a development partner, that kind of background can be amortized across customers and industries. They can supply medical device OEMs with proficiency at a moment’s notice.
Agility and Expertise
As medical device manufacturers ramp up to meet the demands of this historic time, software development partners provide multiple benefits. Three of the most prominent include:
Enabling OEMs to focus on their key strengths. Medical device companies are, first and foremost, healthcare experts. Building an in-house software engineering capability can be a challenge, especially because top talent is often enticed to work for organizations in the software industry, not those in healthcare. By partnering with a specialist firm, OEMs can continue to emphasize the medical skills and technologies they know best.
Pivoting to address changing market or economic conditions. Developing a new pump or RF delivery device can require hundreds of design engineers for limited periods of time, and dozens more software developers. Yet once the product is submitted for FDA approval, those professionals may sit idle. Partners allow manufacturers to expand and contract their resources to meet whatever the market requires—a move that increases agility while lowering long-term cost.
Delivering proven, FDA-certifiable solutions. Product development requires software that is not only high-quality but also designed to quickly pass FDA certification. This means experts are needed who know software quality processes and FDA procedures; e.g., how to update a software platform while maintaining its functional equivalence with approved predecessor products.
In an industry where time-to-market is critical, software development organizations with industry-specific knowledge can deliver certifiable solutions quickly. They have been through the process many times and have track records gained through decades of experience.
One of the ironies of technical equipment—medical devices included—is that their ease-of-use is defined by people’s experiences with their consumer products. After spending much of their lives using smartphones, voice assistants, digital watches, smart thermostats, and the like, no professional wants to struggle with a medical device that isn’t intuitive. Moreover, in life-threatening situations when seconds count, user interfaces have to be easy to navigate.
Partners with both FDA-certification and broad experience in HMI (Human-Machine Interface) software design can be the answer medical device manufacturers need. They offer fresh solutions derived from other industries—ideas that may not occur to designers used to the traditional medical paradigm.
Software development vendors also understand usability testing. Control interfaces often have scores of screens involving hundreds, if not thousands, of objects. These partners can assure that products will be convenient to operate. When many millions of manufacturing dollars are at stake, a well-tested user interface can ensure strong user satisfaction, market acceptance, and sales revenue.
Flexibility for the Future
Even after the world emerges from the scourge of COVID-19, the healthcare industry will be forever changed. Software development partners will continue to play a major role in this new reality by providing agility, expertise, and cost-efficiency.
Software vendors know how to operate in unfamiliar environments. They’ve figured out how to nimbly distribute, manage, and collaborate on workflows to achieve results. They can move projects forward on a 24/7 basis. And they have the cross-platform expertise to bring new ideas and creative solutions to intractable problems.
As the medical device industry moves into its next phase of growth, success will be defined by how efficiently manufacturers can use their human and technological resources to achieve results. Software partners will be a critical element in that sea of change, bringing greater well-being not only to patients but to the entire healthcare marketplace.
About Mike Juran
Mike Juran is the CEO and co-founder of Altia, a concept-to-production embedded user interface (UI) solution provider working with product development companies worldwide. Mike is involved in the design and development of medical device products, automotive dashboards, consumer electronics, and industrial equipment. Mike earned a B.S. in Electrical and Biomedical Engineering and an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.