Looking Towards A Bright Future: Why Product Management Is Needed In Healthcare For Innovation & Growth

healthcare product management

As a young person, I spent too much time in doctors offices and hospitals, and as a result a strong desire to make a difference in healthcare emerged at an early age. Witnessing many of the problems first-hand only made it that more challenging to figure out where to focus energy to impact change. Although my decision ultimately became a career in technology versus medicine, it was fitting that I’d eventually find my way back to healthcare through the development of digital health technology.

Fast forward to 2013 and all the product management experience I had garnered over the years was blown away by this confusing industry steeped in regulations and compliance. To make matters worse, there were only a few industry pioneers blazing trails for interoperability at the time. Through many stumbles and falls, I came to learn that being an effective healthcare product manager requires understanding the nuances specific to the healthcare industry, effectively leveraging subject matter experts, conducting thorough discoveries, and dedicating oneself to staying on top of the ever-changing landscape of the industry.

Healthcare Needs Product Management

The importance of product management in any organization cannot be overstated. Product managers are responsible for implementing business strategy and developing solutions to specific user’s problems that are simple and intuitive. Healthcare is an industry ripe with problems to solve; medical errors, accidents and infections in hospitals, and a rising number of procedures that cost everyone valuable time, money and resources.

And the healthcare industry is full of physical settings that could benefit from innovation. Let’s not forget the number of focus areas such as medical device, diagnostics, pharmaceutical, and health and wellness that are in need of achieving better patient care, quality of care, affordability for patients, and improved revenue for healthcare providers and healthcare settings.

Helping implement processes that contribute to these needs by partnering with subject matter experts is critical. Who better than a product manager who already understands how to facilitate conversation across various stakeholders, ask the right questions, interview customers, and develop requirements based on discovery?

Why Healthcare Lacks Product Management

Product managers are needed now more than ever to help influence change and create innovative solutions to problems, many of which leverage technology in today’s landscape.

Some believe product managers are lacking in healthcare due to status quo. As the team at Sirius Decisions discusses in this article on healthcare product organizations and product management, the R&D department is often responsible for strategy and innovation based on the theory that scientific discovery is the cornerstone to creation of products and services. And while R&D is important, and subject matter experts are needed, often times it’s the executive team leading strategic initiatives where product management is not yet a known quantity.

Until more recently, primarily with the Electronic Health Record (EHR) mandate and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), healthcare seemed to limit its reliance on advanced software technology. The emergence of the cloud, digital applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) has made the ability to disrupt the industry more prevalent.

I would argue product managers are unsure about the path to “break-in” to the healthcare industry. Even with some innovative healthcare organizations who understand the value  skilled product managers can bring to the table, and the number of startups emerging in the digital health space, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to on-boarding. Not only is HIPAA compliance and understanding ACA guidelines critical, there are nuances in digital health design and development that product managers, user experience designers, and both front and back-end developers must understand and add to their skill sets to be truly effective.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We know that innovation and digital transformation can offer solid solutions for improving the healthcare industry, but only if executed properly.

Education needs to be developed to support this growing need in the emerging field of healthcare product management. Product managers who are well versed in solving healthcare issues  could serve as mentors to others in a “pay it forward” model. By educating as many product managers as possible on healthcare problems and healthcare technologies while influencing the healthcare industry on the value of product management, we can all look towards a brighter future in an industry where we are all consumers.

Are you interested in learning how to become a product manager in healthcare technology? Do you have ideas on how we can get more product managers focused on healthcare’s many challenges and help innovate? Feel free to get in touch. I’ll be giving a live talk next month and I’d love to incorporate your insights.


About The Author

Shelley Iocona is a product strategist helping startups and enterprises innovate. Her approach to building great products is based on the belief that ideas should be validated using a lean approach before development begins, and that having the right team is pivotal to a company’s success.

Before founding ON ITS AXIS, Shelley held leadership roles at companies like Outcast Media (now Verifone Media), Yahoo, Connexity (formerly Shopzilla/Bizrate), and DIRECTV, and led product strategy and lean product development for numerous start-ups and incubators.

ON ITS AXIS is a full-service consultancy consisting of technical, business, marketing and product strategists.