Bridging Design Gaps – Engineers vs Physicians

I have been working in the “middle space” for much of my career.  I began as an engineer who wanted to design better research tools for physicians.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I had no clue what physicians really wanted or needed.  Without having any hospital or clinical experience, my design ideas were completely impractical.  My solution to this dilemma was to actually go to medical school and become a doctor—not the right move for everyone, I will agree, but it had a huge impact on my view of biomedical technology development.

Twenty years after that decision, I find myself back in the thick of biomedical innovation!  I have spent the past few years developing the ArborHive Innovation Network and learning about how medtech development works in this day and age.  I still find myself translating between design teams and clinicians on a regular basis.  In fact, this seems to be the bulk of what I do.  Dream job?  In many ways, yes!  But I have made some interesting observations along the way…

The biggest question that I keep asking myself is, “Why do I need to translate between these two worlds?”  Are physicians not scientists?  Don’t both camps devote their energies to solving problems in a methodical way?  Granted, the settings may be different, but isn’t the essence of this process the same? 

So why do engineers and doctors butt heads when it comes to medical technology development?


I decided to go back to the most basic principles of problem-solving.  I also decided to go about this in the simplest way possible—an internet search.  I went to my local alphabet-laden search homepage and typed in “Engineering Problem-Solving Models.”  It spat back a series of helpful loop diagrams that I downloaded to my computer for further study.  I then repeated this process for “Medical Problem-Solving Models.”  Being a little old school, I even printed a few of these models out so I could do a paper-based side-by-side comparison.  As expected, I then became distracted by some other shiny object, so I set all of this aside for a few days.

When I came back to my printed flow charts later in the week, I realized that I had forgotten to label which loop diagrams came from my engineering search and which ones came from my medical search.  “Horrors!” I said to myself.  “How will I ever figure out which is which?”  I started to comb through my diagram collection to see if I could sort this out without have to repeat this process.  It was then that it dawned on me: These loop diagrams all looked the same!  There are some nuances that change, but essentially, engineers and doctors use the same problem-solving approach! 

So again, why do they butt heads?  Aren’t we all using a common framework for our problem solving?


I pondered this magnificent fact for awhile…  If we have so much in common, where does this process derail?  Would it be possible to look at this process in a way that could minimize these gaps to improve the engineer-physician communication process, increase the quality of biotech development and make the world a better place after all?

Lofty goals, I know…  But does that mean that we shouldn’t ask this question?  I mean, just in case we glean a little insight…


My goal over the next several posts here at The Lonely Surgeon will be to do exactly that—define a framework, do a little old-style literature class compare-and-contrast analysis and see if we can’t shed a little light on some areas that could use some extra attention.  Will this be a definitive guide that will change the world and bring peace and harmony to the biomedical innovation realm?  Probably not.  But I think that starting this discussion is still worth the time, and I look forward to input from my fellow innovators.  My hope is that by sending out a few sparks, something good will catch fire and fuel better conversations going forward. 

In my upcoming posts, let’s start by setting some common definitions and agreements.  It’s always good to start off on a positive note.  More to come, my friends… I look forward to your feedback!

Until then…


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Photo Credit: Arek Socha | Pixabay