Getting the Most from your Surgeon Consultants

Device manufacturers could not hope to design, test, and market new products without the input and expertise of surgeons. Manufacturers today typically engage dozens or even a hundred different surgeons as consultants. After working through the processes of needs assessments, surgeon qualifications, and contract preparation some take costly shortcuts during the critical step of surgeon selection. Extra effort during the selection process will always yield dividends when the project is finished. Challenge your organization to work harder at this stage to derive greater innovation and value from your surgeon consultant teams. Here are a few keys to greater success:

Selecting surgeons will always be tough. Sales will push for the biggest potential customers (of course.) Engineers want the agreeable surgeons who prefer to avoid any conflict. Marketing Product Managers want the surgeon who is sociable and readily available.  These influences should be recognized and minimized in order to select the most productive consulting team.

The best teams for product design should include surgeons who refuse to use the current product offering. Surgeons like this are the reason you are making a new product! These surgeons use a competitive product they perceive to be superior. If you engage creative and innovative surgeons who think they can improve upon the competitor’s superior system, you have a valuable and committed partner.

After a new product is designed, who do you choose to evaluate it before the launch? The designers?  How about current customers? Remember, your current customers like the product you already have. Of course they will like the improved version. If you are looking for a rubber stamp of approval, go this route. If you want to find all the shortcomings and uncover the real objections your Sales team will soon encounter, ask some skeptical and competitive surgeons to trial it first.

Will you hear every idea the surgeon really has? Today’s contracts either rule out royalties altogether, or merely offer the potential to earn a tiny fraction of the royalties surgeons have received in the past. Choose surgeons who genuinely want to collaborate and ensure your contracts can adequately compensate for truly innovative ideas. Discuss compensation expectations up front and utilize contracts, which allow for royalties if truly earned. These two steps add complexity to front-end negotiations yet ensure each surgeon is fully engaged and committed to sharing every idea.

Build a diverse team to capture the perspective of the full marketplace. Consider experience, training, surgical style, skill level, academic vs. private practice, and specialty. For example using only highly skilled surgeons might result in concepts or techniques too complex.  A well-chosen group can represent a broad spectrum in a small number of surgeons.

It is always a challenge to assemble a team that will work collaboratively. The most innovative products I have seen started with a great idea which was vastly improved upon during open dialogue around a table or cadaver.  Synergy is getting better ideas out of the team than any single individual could envision.  Creating collaborative environments can take a bit of luck, but your chances are improved with great meeting planning, fostering an environment of open dialog, and extra attention to evaluating the personalities and styles of each prospective surgeon during the selection process.

Finally, don’t avoid demanding personalities. The best surgeons tell you what is wrong and what needs to change. Surgeons hesitant to speak negatively about another person’s ideas are the surgeons who won’t add value to a collaborative team.

The greatest surgeon consultant interaction I experienced was also the most uncomfortable, yet it validated the extra effort it took to bring this surgeon on board. An engineering team had moved forward with a concept without seeking any surgeon feedback and spent weeks perfecting a prototype with significant clinical flaws. When this surgeon was finally showed the finished metal prototype he became mad, actually furious.  He was angry about the time lost over a preventable mistake. This surgeon was no favorite of the Sales team (he had stopped using a product which he designed when a competitor made one he preferred) and would never again be a top choice of the engineers, but his feedback was always spot on. Regardless of the hurdles we faced to work with this surgeon his contributions proved that choosing the right people is critical. Each additional challenge you address during the selection process will lead to a better team and vastly improved project outcome.


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