One of the most interesting aspects of working on the Sonopill project for me has been the opportunity, and even the need, to work with clinical staff on a daily basis. Ben, our clinical research fellow, often complains of being outnumbered by the engineers. Fortunately, like ‘Bones’ McCoy from Star Trek, he doesn’t let that stop him from bringing an important point of view to the discussion. I bring up Dr. McCoy because it has become very apparent over the last two years that doctors and engineers really do tend to approach problems from completely different angles and sometimes I do feel like Scotty arguing with Ben’s McCoy. But, while it can be frustrating at times to explain that the number of buttons on the final device (Ben’s preference: one) doesn’t really matter until we actually have something that works, it’s been an illuminating reminder that it doesn’t matter how good we engineers think our new shiny doo-dad is if the clinicians can’t (or won’t) use it.
As engineers, both within and without the medical device community, it can be tempting to spend a lot of time and money researching and building devices that do more, because the technology has advanced and we can do so many more things now. However, those devices are often solutions looking for a problems. The new features added on, “because we can”, don’t actually address an existing gap in the market. By having doctors, life-scientists and other non-engineers on the project from day one, there’s always someone in the room to point out that something we’re proposing doesn’t really do anything that they don’t already have. On the flip side, they’re also in a position to say “what would be really cool is if we could…”. This leads to development in directions that probably wouldn’t have occurred to the engineering team in a vacuum, and has the advantage of having a target market already identified.
Really, both the engineers in our group as well as the clinical and life-science members have learned a lot from each other already, and, as much as it may sometimes pain us, it really does help to learn to see things from a different point of view.