Why Is Medical Innovation So Difficult?

By Anand Devaiah, MD, FACS

I’ve been asked this seemingly simple question from a variety of perspectives, and it’s proven endlessly complicated. The challenges we must innovate to solve change over time, across contexts, and between stakeholders in the medical innovation process.

The best answer I’ve found can be encapsulated into two words: “It depends.”

I admit that it is an answer that is both accurate and unsatisfying.  How do we tackle such a tough question systematically and with purpose?

We recognize that medical innovation is occurring at a blistering pace. This is driven by a number of factors, including scientific breakthroughs, the continued rise of digital health technologies, and the needs of the population.  It is fueled by an increasingly connected world, a growing population, countries facing a sharp rise in their aging population, intercalated economies, and information exchange capabilities that are unprecedented.

We find ourselves adherent to conventional practices, where silos, or the specialized communities within medical disciplines, exist as part of medical innovation. These silos have helped define and insulate stakeholders in many ways that have been functional at a point in time. However, we are living in a time of rapidly advancing medical innovation, where these silos need to be connected – or maybe even deconstructed.

There are multiple benefits to breaking through the silos in medical innovation. By being more open, transparent, and communicative around the opportunities and friction points, we can co-develop processes that better meet the needs of our community. We can reap the benefits of advancements in drugs, devices, digital innovations, combined technologies, and other domains. Having a deeper level of engagement and ownership around shared goals and processes across areas that have been held in traditional silos holds the promise to help move medical innovation along at a more rapid and less costly pace.

We can better align stakeholders with one another, be more productive, and do so with less inertia to overcome. As we confront challenges in streamlining device and drug development, ethical considerations in accelerated innovation, privacy issues made more complex by technology, and global health catastrophes like the COVID-19 pandemic, this shift in mindset takes on special context and meaning.

This idea is core to many programs within or supported by the BU Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy. This includes our work with teams driving innovative new technologies and ideas within BU, groups who seek our input on their health care ventures, precision health reimagined with a novel research platform, groundbreaking work in digital biomarker technologies, work in conjunction with government agencies, and many more.

With that, I’ll leave you with two more words: “Stay tuned.”


About Anand Devaiah, MD, FACS

Dr. Devaiah is Director of the Biomedical & Health Technology Development & Transfer Domain at the Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy and an Associate Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery with Joint Appointments in Neurological Surgery and Ophthalmology at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.

As Director of the Biomedical & Health Technology Development & Transfer Domain, Dr. Devaiah leads the Institute’s activities integrating the tools for health improvement that are being rapidly developed by science and technology. In his role, Dr. Devaiah bridges the worlds of development and implementation, leading collaborations focused on improving value in the health system through technological innovations.

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