Rapid prototyping is a powerful methodology in product development. Its magic lies in allowing product teams to iterate or pivot before they overinvest in app development.
Having worked for pharmaceutical, life science, and medtech companies on over 90 digital products so far, we know that healthtech is an industry that runs by its own rules and moves at its own pace.
By default, healthcare products are heavily regulated to ensure safety and efficacy. Obtaining approval from bodies like the FDA in the U.S. or the EMA in Europe requires a rigorous process of clinical trials, documentation, and review. Processes and procedures can take years, which, in most cases, is costly and time-consuming. The COVID pandemic was the only moment in history when the whole area experienced unprecedented acceleration. Today, we're back to lengthy procedures.
In such an environment, betting on too many incorrect assumptions can be disappointing for companies and investors.
In 2022, Swiss drugmaker Roche shuttered most trials of its Alzheimer's drug after long-awaited trials failed to outperform placebo results. Hopes were high—Credit Suisse analysts estimated there was a 20% chance of the drug achieving $10 billion in annual sales. They later described the trial failure as "unequivocal".
In 2023, one of the leaders in the U.S. digital therapeutics segment, Pear Therapeutics, filed for bankruptcy. The company failed to secure enough paying customers for its digital therapy for substance use disorder. We might say there was no product-market fit.
While there is no silver bullet that guarantees market success, there are ways to increase this likelihood. Investing in a rapid prototype before building a fully-fledged MVP is one solution any savvy innovation or digital leader should consider.
Benefits of building prototypes in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies
There’s a reason I’m betting on rapid prototyping. Time and budget-framed, prototypes allow a company to:
- Pitch an idea to relevant stakeholders or investors
- Run initial user tests on chosen target groups
- Prepare functional and technical documentation needed for compliance purposes
- Unblock internal company budgets
- Test an idea in a new market
- Follow through only with those positively validated ideas and save precious resources in the process
Based on my experience and work in the healthtech industry, I have compiled a list of the top reasons it’s worth prototyping healthtech products before building an MVP.
11 reasons to go for healthtech prototypes
1. Stakeholder alignment
Ideas for digital products, if only described and not implemented, tend to be understood differently by various people and organizations. Use prototypes to explain and sell the idea to stakeholders, bridging the gap between conceptualization and execution in healthcare projects.
2. Ecosystem understandingMedtech products are seldom simple or straightforward. Recognize the complexity of the healthcare ecosystem, involving patients, caregivers, doctors, and beyond, for effective solution development.
3. Feedback from usersPatient-centricity and value-based healthcare are strong trends in the medtech world. Create a prototype of your solution to firsthand check if your assumptions are true. Early user research will enable you to save time and money spent on endless reworks of an already implemented MVP.
4. Accelerating time to marketIt might feel counterintuitive, but building a prototype actually shortens time to market. Choose the highest priority features for the MVP by validating user paths based on a prototype. As a result, release a smaller, but more relevant MVP to the market in a shorter period.
5. Identifying and fixing usability issuesUsability issues can be a major barrier to the adoption of healthcare digital products. By prototyping early and often, you can identify and fix these issues before they cause problems for users.
6. Improving product-market fitValidate assumptions with end-users early to make a higher quality product that meets their actual needs.
7. Data securityIn medtech products, we often use Electronic Health Records and share them between platforms. Use an architecture prototype to ensure the secure handling of sensitive user information.
8. Data interoperabilityDiscuss specific challenges related to healthcare technologies, such as data interoperability and security of patient data, emphasizing the validation of both the user interface and underlying technologies. Perform a proof of concept of your technical solution to ensure the final product meets all necessary requirements.
9. Regulatory complianceHealth-related digital products need to meet a series of strict regulations, depending on the functionality and purpose of the application. You need to think about accessibility, data protection, security, and comply with certain normative acts, all brought together by the Medical Device Regulation for the EU or FDA regulations for the United States. Prototype your solution first to validate assumptions and check what regulations your product needs to meet.
10. Certification processIn some cases, medtech products need to be treated as software as a medical device (SaMD). Validate for certification requirements ensuring adherence to regulatory standards.
Lastly, validate ideas to prevent investing in the wrong solutions, saving time and resources, particularly important in the cost-sensitive healthcare sector.
We’ve tested this approach in commercial projects, and we’ve successfully used it in our R&D (see NeuroNest, our Alzheimer's patient management app designed for patients, caregivers, and clinics).
A clickable prototype is one of the best ways to accelerate user-centric innovation by generating immediate feedback from your target users. It allows you to validate your idea quickly and minimize the risk of the product failing.