How multidisciplinary approach leads to successful innovation projects

To include a designer with no healthcare experience in a medical device project might not make so much sense at first. An artist may feel out of place among the engineers, business experts or medical specialists. But, in fact, it’s a multidisciplinary approach like this that is often the right recipe for some of the most successful innovation projects.

“Innovation requires not only an understanding of the need but the willingness to look at the problem in a different way,” says Dr. Rajiv Doshi, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Stanford University in California. “It’s important to have a domain expert work alongside people with less prior experience who can ask ‘why do we do it that way?”

Among the requirements for participating in the Global Surgical Training Challenge is that multidisciplinary teams must include at least a clinician, an educator, and a technical expert. In addition to this expertise, teams are encouraged to consider including artists, game developers, medical illustrators and designers.

“Diversity within the team is core to the biodesign process,” says. Dr. Doshi, who is on the judging panel for the Global Surgical Training Challenge. In countries such as India, which still uses a British Commonwealth style of education system, a person may begin a career in medicine as early as age 17. “Given this early choice of careers, one is less likely to be cross-trained in other disciplines such as engineering. In other systems, such as that in the United States, medicine is a graduate degree.”

“Innovation requires not only an understanding of the need but the willingness to look at the problem in a different way,”

Dr. Rajiv Doshi

Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Stanford University in California

In addition to a so-called ‘beginner’s mindset’ that a non-clinician can bring to the team, everyone can benefit from immersing themselves in the problem they are trying to solve. “Understanding the local context, the available resources, the types of cases surgeons will be training for — all of these are critical questions and observations that must be made in the earliest stages of the design process,” says Dr. Doshi. A solution that may work in a specialized urban facility may not work well in a rural setting with limited resources. 

The third critical element of a successful innovation is a focus on the need, rather than the technology. “Too often we see people become enamored with a technology, and they go in search of a problem where it can be applied,” says Dr. Doshi. Observing, understanding and addressing the local need will generally lead to a better design and ultimate solution.

In the context of surgical training, there are a wide range of needs. But common to all of them is that clinicians, no matter where they practice, are eager to learn new procedures, says Dr. Doshi. “Democratizing access to surgical training, and to change the paradigm by giving direct access to trainees is a critical need in low resource settings,” he adds.

Dr. Doshi is Director of the India Biodesign Program which aims to train the next generation of medical technology innovators in India. Dr. Doshi co-directs the India-based Founders Forum and Innovators Garage, which provide executive education for Indian medical technology entrepreneurs.