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MTS Blog: DIY Med Device Software Horror Stories

Everyone has “do it yourself” horror stories.  The geyser of water that spewed all over the kitchen when your dad played plumber.  The perm your friend thought was a great idea but it wasn’t.  The 200 wedding favors that required 15 separate steps and a pound of glitter and glue.

But, for medical device manufacturers DIY technology projects are often damaging and costly.  One large manufacturer spent four years and $15 million developing a homegrown inventory management system that is still not used.  Another built a system internally that created enough discrepancies to keep 15 full-time employees busy resolving them.  Yet another manufacturer began development in the summer for a December launch, and, while they continue to wait, they hang on with spreadsheets and whiteboards.  The horror stories are endless.

Why go DIY?

Manufacturers attempt the in-house development of software to manage medical device inventory for a variety of reasons.  Some are misled by their information technology (IT) department, which would love nothing more than to spend an inordinate amount of time on a coding vanity project.   Others take the word of consultants who offer pie-in-the-sky estimates of six to eight months for solution delivery.  Many more just make the simple mistake of thinking that designing and producing a software solution that connects case scheduling, sales, and inventory management and provides actionable information can be done fast and on the cheap.

The reality is that a comprehensive case scheduling and inventory management system requires strategic design direction from experts in the med device world, people who know how important part, lot, and serial numbers are to capture correctly.  A system that can handle the level of complexity needed to improve sales efficiency, advance inventory control, increase operational effectiveness, and enhance financial accountability will easily take three or four years to build, test, and tweak.  Finally, what really makes a system worth its weight in gold is the valuable input that comes from a wide range of users and their needs.

Bigger Problems to Come

In addition to the money and time lost in developing a DIY solution, manufacturers have other problems.

  • With a clunker of a solution, many manufacturers increase the number of sales reps in order to cover patient and hospital needs.  An effective, streamlined solution enables manufacturers to level-set their sales force.    
  • When an IT department builds an in-house solution, they swell their ranks to keep up with the changes and modifications that are inevitable.  Manufacturers find it difficult to trim the IT department down when the system continues to need work.
  • Inventory is another area of excess when you use a homegrown solution.  With a robust system able to meet the complicated and varied needs of medical device inventory sales and management, manufacturers are able to reduce unnecessary inventory.

But, the biggest issue manufacturers who insist on internal development face is rejection from hospitals.  Hospitals receive products from a number of manufacturers, and they are not interested in using a specific case scheduling and inventory management system for each one.  Comprehensive systems enable hospitals, third party logistics providers (3PLs), and manufacturers to all use the same system.

DIY technology solutions have a certain appeal, but manufacturers are making a mistake when they go this route.  It is a given that homegrown solutions end up costing more and taking more time.  In addition, DIY projects require surplus sales reps, IT professionals, and inventory.  And, when hospitals balk at incorporating a manufacturer’s specific system, then what?  A manufacturer’s money is far better spent on the research and development of new life-saving devices than amateur software and iPhone apps that will soon become obsolete.