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Introduction - relation between clinical needs and innovation

In the Healthtech industry, as in any other manufacturing industry, the initial step of new product development should always be identifying the unmet clinical need that their product will address and then understanding the customers' needs. The marketing or business development function of the company is generally responsible for realising this task. The identified needs are then communicated to engineers and translated into design parameters.

One challenge for Healthtech companies is that the identity of the 'customer' can be multiple and complex. For instance, who would be the 'customer' of an orthopaedics device manufacturer? The surgeon who operates on the patient and implants the device, the patient who is being treated, or the hospital who is paying the bill? Each of these 'customers' has a say in the value of the device and will have a completely different set of requirements. The role of the manufacturer is not only to capture the different needs of each 'customer' but also to understand the chain of influences of the procurement decision, in order to prioritise those needs.

As early as possible in the new product development, manufacturers are advised to consider a number of questions with regards to the market pull for their new products. Indeed, before investing resources in new product development it is necessary to be clear about the clinical problem that the product will solve. There are different categories of clinical 'challenges' or 'problems' or 'needs' that might justify the launch of a new product development.

National and regional clinical needs - utility of the product Manufacturers can not only identify major market opportunities but also access innovation support by choosing to operate in a clinical area deemed to be of national or regional priority:

Consider priorities established by the Departments of Health which may appear on their central website or under SBRI competitions.

More information is given elsewhere on thsi site about some of the relevant organisations within the NHS Innovation Landscape.

Local and specific clinical needs - utility and usability of the product Your company can also engage with clinicians on a local basis to identify and articulate market needs. In addition, meeting clinicians in the real healthcare environment provides valuable insights regarding the conditions of usability of the future product. The new product will have to fit within the legacy clinical care delivery pathway hence it is important to establish inter-operability with current clinical processes, equipment and skills. And if the new technology leads to a new care pathway, knowledge of what is to be replaced is essential, as is understanding what will be needed to change current practice.

The NHS Health and Wealth paper published in December 2011, called for the setting up of Academic Health Science Networks which will be local networks, connecting local Trusts, and provide a lead customer contact for business. These are being established during 2012, and the KTN will provide more information when available.