"Invention is the Mother of Necessity"May 23, 2019 Robert Friedman
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of serving in the medical device industry since the ‘80s, and I’ve seen a lot of change. Much of that change is exciting and indeed accelerating!!! We’re truly bringing repair, cure, treatment, and relief to patients around the world. As a young engineer, I learned from my boss that helping people through contributions to this industry provides its own fringe benefit. In other words: It’s a perk to be involved in aiding humanity in such a noble cause.
One of the principles drilled into me during my R&D tenure is that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” Find the necessity, and you will have found an opportunity to contribute to the noble cause.
It seems that in our present era, we operate under a new paradigm—technology advances into areas we didn’t previously know we needed. My wife and I lament that our luxuries have become our kids’ necessities. When we were growing up, did we know we needed a phone that also takes pictures, has a browser, and a heart rate monitor, and…?
Today, consumers are presented with advances not conceived of previously. Of course, there is still an unmet niche being served; however, the line was long ago blurred between a need and a want .
“Alexa, tell me a joke.”
This phenomenon is not just in consumer electronics. Doctors are asking Silicon Valley engineers to spend more time in the hospital before developing apps (CNBC, Dec. 28, 2018). Why? Because many of the medical apps coming to market fall short of serving the medical functions that they are designed to address. Moreover, last year, an unprecedented $8.1 billion was invested into digital health—an average of $22 million per project.
Today, we’re seeing similar trends in the medical device sector. Everyone certainly wants to live longer (Dr. Kevorkian notwithstanding). And, I believe I speak for everyone when I say that we also want to be free of ailments.
Big Pharma continues to boom. But, in the wake of the CRISPR Babies scandal, I’m led to wonder—how much of today’s research is simply for research’s sake, with no known real-life implications, or...worse...dangerous outcomes.
Moreover, some medical devices are not definitively proven to be more effective than standard treatments – though industry generally does a great job of validating efficacy (sorry Netflix). Case in point: while half of Silicon Valley was drooling over Elizabeth Holmes’ one-drop shop, thousands—scratch that—millions of Walgreens patients were months away from potentially falling prey to unnecessary medical procedures, undiagnosed medical conditions and, perhaps the worst of all, unbridled avarice.
Our current state includes a huge bolus of the populations nearing or already in retirement. This presents a unique opportunity for enterprising device developers because each ailing person is looking to medical technology to alleviate their suffering and allow them to enjoy their hard-earned free time. But, beware the Shiny Object Syndrome where the mantra has become, “Invention is the Mother of Necessity.”
My intention here is certainly not to throw a wet blanket over innovation. On the contrary, throughout my whole career, I’ve been fascinated by the brilliance of solutions to challenges that were borne from curiosity. Rather, I am simply suggesting we take a step back and try to understand the full-scale implications of our direction.
Imagine a world where those seeking to provide relief are not driven by profit alone. Our industry still carries the original fringe benefit of helping people. The charge is to maintain the noble calling associated with seeking the good of humanity and allow the profits to take a necessary, but secondary position.