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February 16, 2016 Krista Donaldson

Impact Innovation: Designing Medical Products to Close Health Inequities, A study and framework

Impact papers

What if all medical devices—from pacemakers and artificial joints to hearing aids and blood pressure monitors—were specifically designed to close the quality healthcare gap for under-served populations?

D-Rev calls this approach “impact innovation.” Too often, medical devices are not covered by insurance or are overly expensive. With hefty price tags, many patients do not have access to quality treatment options. For example, 37.5 million Americans have trouble hearing, yet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that fewer than 30 percent of the partially deaf use a hearing aid1, because the average cost is $4,5002.

Impact innovation is the process by which products and services are specifically designed and disseminated to close social equity gaps among the world’s poor. D-Rev’s impact innovations include the ReMotion Knee, an $80 prosthetic that perform as well as $350+ U.S. versions, and Brilliance, a $500 phototherapy device that performs on par or better than devices that cost more than $3,000 in high-income markets. Both have had strong impact in D-Rev’s target markets.

Impact innovations are high-quality, affordable medical products. They are hard to create, but not impossible. Over the last nine months with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we looked at examples of reverse and frugal innovations as a possible means of getting quality devices to patients who most need them via the market. What we learned is that there are few examples, but much can be learned from them and the process of bringing a medical device “back” into the U.S. market.

The paper “Impact Innovations of Medical Devices to Serve Low-Income Patients” explains the origin of the term, summarizes leading examples, and provides a framework for developing them.


1 http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx

2 http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-05-2011/hearing-aids-cost.html

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