Generalists vs. Specialists: Who Designs Medical Devices More Effectively?

August 27, 2013

On August 24th, Ximedica’s CIO and Co-Founder Aidan Petrie argued on behalf of the medical specialist during IDSA’s debate, Designer Faceoff: The Generalist vs. The Specialist, which pitted designers from in and around the industry against one another in a discussion around what it really “takes” to design medical devices for the medical industry. While the audience voted in favor of the generalist we maintain that designing a safe and efficacious product that is fit for its intended use benefits from industry knowledge.

Q. Who is the more effective designer in the medical field: the generalist or the specialist?
A. The specialist. If I wanted to start a business in France, I might benefit from speaking French. Knowledge is power, and too little knowledge specifically in healthcare design can be dangerous. Designers who work deep in the medical field are part of a highly regulated industry (far beyond the FDA), who literally make life and death decisions every day. To lack industry expertise is to expose yourself, your company, your clients and patients to the consequences of poor design which can result in product recalls, launch delays, litigation and harm to the user.

Q. Can a designer with no prior experience designing in this field
produce products to the level of a specialist?

A. Sure. Great designers are great learners- no one was born into the medical space, in fact there are very few courses one can take to become a medical field specialist and the diversity of the field is so vast that even the word specialist needs to be bracketed. The question really is how much a company is prepared to invest in educating a member of its design staff to their particular domain… It is faster and much more efficient and economical to work with seasoned companies within the field.

Q. Who is the best qualified to design medical products for the home?
A. The Medical Specialist. FDA scrutiny has turned to home use devices because the user is rarely a trained medical professional but rather a layperson. Designers must therefore be able to develop products that meet a greater variety of usability requirements as well as understand the parameters when conducting research with protected populations in their home environments. It can be quite a dense web of regulations and controls that must be abided by.