Explosive population growth. Aging populations. Inadequate access to quality healthcare in the poorest parts of the world. Medical technologies that aren’t getting the job done.

To tackle these challenges, medical-device makers will have to take a whole new approach to innovation. R&D in this space is no longer just about tweaking existing products to make incremental improvements. It’s about creating breakthrough devices that no one could imagine previously. These devices will reinvent how healthcare is delivered and generate unprecedented new value for patients, providers, and payers alike—including:

  • lowering healthcare costs
  • enhancing quality of care
  • personalizing care for patients
  • making it easy for healthcare consumers as well as physicians, nurses, and technicians to use the devices available to them
  • sweetening the odds that devices in development can be handed in for regulatory approval

How will all this happen? Next-generation medical devices will be designed and developed “from the outside in”—with users’ needs and experiences top of mind for R&D teams—not only “from the inside out,” with scientific advancements in product components as the primary focus.

We call it context-driven development. It hinges on R&D approaches called Design Thinking and Design Doing.

And among progressive device makers today, it’s replacing classic waterfall development as the wellspring for innovation.

It’s about creating breakthrough devices that no one could imagine previously

Enter . . . Design Thinking and Design Doing

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to solving complex, ill-defined problems. Multidisciplinary teams come together to conceive of new products, solutions, and business processes—asking questions like:

  • Who’ll use this device?
  • What does each different group of users want from it?
  • In what respects are different users struggling with devices available now?
  • How can we ease those pain points?

Then, through Design Doing, a diverse team comprising designers, software developers, and hardware engineers quickly develops functional prototypes. Team members test “thin slices”—simple elements of the device’s functionality that could be valuable and could potentially be released to production, such as a specific device feature—with real users. Then they draw on users’ feedback to prove or disprove the device’s value, and they iterate as needed to bring the most promising solutions to market.

Result? Faster speed to value. And products that score user centricity and a resounding success in the marketplace—by challenging the status quo and, even better, by creating something entirely new.

Ready, set . . . Ideate. Plan. Develop.

To get the most from their traditional plus context-driven innovation efforts, medical-device companies will need to embed Design Thinking and Design Doing in their existing R&D processes. That’s not easy. But some savvy tactics—tailored to the ideating, planning and development phases of innovation—can help.


Bring together experts in “emotional engineering,” “intelligent engineering” and “technology engineering.”


Allocate R&D funds using a venture-capital mindset—funding shorter time periods of a larger portfolio of ideas.


In addition to traditional “milestones,” define “yardstones”—frequent, user-focused reviews of individual “thin slices” of a device in development.

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Proving the value: Two cases in point

Accenture has partnered with medical-device makers to help them incorporate Design Thinking and Design Doing into their R&D processes. These projects have led to breakthrough innovations that create new value not just for the companies but also for patients, technicians, and other healthcare stakeholders. A few examples:

  • A new surgical robotics controller is similar to a video game controller but is inside-engineered to withstand accidental drops, hardware faults and immersion in cleaning fluids to meet medical-device safety requirements.
  • A streamlined way to operate a CT scanner includes a wireless remote, a tablet, and a gantry-mounted camera to keep patients within the image’s frame and to reduce walking ways for technicians—who can position the console in the same room as the scanner and thus spend more time with patients.

Learn how medical-device makers will have to take a whole new approach to innovation.

About the Authors

Dr. Stefan Kalla

Managing Director – Consulting, Life Sciences, MedTech R&D

Thomas Burchard

Director – Life Sciences, MedTech, Product X.O

Floris Provoost

Associate Director – Innovation at What If!, Life Sciences

Steve Yaffe

Expert MedTech – Product X.O


Digital platforms for medical technology

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