Is iterate a dirty word in healthcare?

It’s been a few weeks since I attended – for my first time – the annual MedtechVision conference, organized by MedtechWomen. And like a bad ear worm (I’m talking to you, Look What You Made Me Do), I can’t get the word “iterate” out of my head.

Before I go there, I want to give a huge shout out to the meeting organizers. For full disclosure, I’ve never been a big fan of women’s conferences. It’s not that I don’t support the cause. It’s just that I’ve found many of them to either be too “we are women hear us roar” without the content to back it up, or not really reflective of my reality as a working woman. But this conference was different. It wasn’t focused on how we, as women, can advance and how we are different from our male counterparts. Nope. It showed us advancement, by simply being a meeting focused on content about critical issues in medtech – with an all-women cast: organizers, moderators, panelists, patient and CEO speakers. I was impressed, and humbled.

(Just look at this amazing group of women! Top: Panel on Enabling New Care Paradigms, Outside the Clinical Walls, with speakers from Medtronic, Outset Medical, Hometeam and Maven; Bottom left: CEO interview with Angela Macfarlane of ForSight Labs, moderated by Susan Stimson of Intersect ENT; Bottom right: patient keynote by Dr. Sarah Kimball.)

Now, back to iterate.

In my experience working in biotech, to iterate, or build on an existing product, was almost seen as a failure. Even though most companies are cautious enough not to use “cure” loosely, that’s what we were all aiming to do of course. While there are many paths to potential cures, many times drug results were incremental. We would learn about a new potential use of a product after it was already available. Or we would combine a new drug with another drug to see if there was an improvement. I would often find myself in discussions with reporters on why a new indication for an old drug was still relevant. Or why combining two medicines was better than one medicine alone (though I admit, combinations are more widely accepted now). Or on the importance of looking at hazard ratios and means vs. averages, not just one time point. And I’d read with frustration articles that questioned “the value of a month of life.” If you were “just” coming up with the next iteration of a treatment, you weren’t working hard enough.

My main takeaway from MedtechVision is that this is fundamentally counter to the view in medtech. I couldn’t believe how often the word iterate came up. It seemed like every panelist or speaker was uttering this word.

 

(Amy Belt Raimundo, above, of KP Ventures and co-founder of MedtechWomen, talked about “never settling for the status quo” in her opening remarks. In other words, get out there and iterate!)

Patients need new options. NOW. If your device or technology advances patient care, you fight to make it available as soon as possible. And once you have a viable product – even if it’s prior to approval or commercialization – you start iterating. How can this be improved? What are we learning from real-word experience? What is new in the world of design, technology, materials and software that we can leverage to improve our product? As long as you are constantly iterating, never settling – you are winning.

Never give up on a cure or revolutionary change, but why wait when you can help patients TODAY, while still evolving and committing to something better? I know I’m oversimplifying as there are many factors that go into drug and device development. But I see it like this: new iterations on today’s options aren’t failures or giving up; they are a commitment to today’s – and tomorrow’s – patient needs. Of course a group of successful women would have this mindset!  It was eye opening.

And this goes for us, too, as female professionals. I mean, if I wasn’t open to the concept of a better version of myself, I wouldn’t have attended this conference at all given my prior experiences. I don’t know about you, but as a working mom with two kids and a growing client roster, every day is different and presents new challenges, whether it’s helping my daughter learn “Matchmaker” for her upcoming play (oh, the IRONY!), leading the charge of doing something new for a client for the first time, or having multiple pairs of jeans – those for the months where I get to work out nearly every day, and those for when I travel most weeks and don’t. It’s OK to constantly iterate, to be OK with small improvements. Because it’s still moving forward that matters.

– Krysta Pellegrino

Photo credits:  Dana Hargitay, www.danahargitay.com 

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