Does better design translate to greater sales?

Does better design translate to greater sales?

When it comes to diabetes devices, glucose monitors and insulin pumps, until recently product design was given the short end of the bench. The most popular insulin pump from market leader Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) have the look and feel of an old fashioned pager, a device that for all practical purposes no longer exists. The same can said of the many glucose monitors on the market, it was not until recently that color screens became available, something that is commonplace in today’s smartphone obsessed world.

Given the popularity of these rather old-fashioned products the question needs to be asked; does better design lead to greater sales?  Perhaps a better question is in this environment where price is paramount; will a more patient friendly, easier to use device translate into greater market share or is reimbursement/formulary position the main factor in determining market share?  We ask these questions after reading an interesting article posted on the Qmed web site entitled “10 Remarkably Sleek Medical Devices”.  Here in order are the diabetes devices on the list;

  1. t:slim Insulin Pump from Tandem Diabetes (NASDAQ:TNDM)
  2. Abbott (NYSE:ABT)  Diabetes Care’s FreeStyle Optium Neo
  3. Bayer Contour USB
  4. Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) – AgaMatrix iBGStar

Before we go further it should be noted that the FreeStyle Optium Neo is not currently available in the United States.

Still it’s rather impressive that 40% of the list consists of diabetes devices with 3 of 4 being conventional blood glucose monitors.  Yet looking at the list with the possible exception of the t:slim which is gaining traction in the marketplace, two of the four devices haven’t fared well when measured by commercial success.  It would also be fair to state that one, the IBGStar has been a colossal failure.

So we’ll ask again does better design matter?

The fact that the t:slim is gaining traction in the marketplace may hold some clues. As we have noted previously insulin pump therapy requires a high degree of patient education. Unlike a simple glucose monitor, operating an insulin pump can and many times is a harrowing experience. Patients must understand not just how to operate the pump but also concepts such as how to count carbohydrates, duration of insulin action, time to insulin action, insulin to carb factors, etc. As we have noted in the past this is one reason insulin pump therapy is not more popular as effective as it is, it’s also very labor intensive for the patient and physician.

That’s why the t:slim is refreshing departure from the past as with its iPhone like design many patients find the pump easier to learn and ultimately easier to use.  A fact that should not go unnoticed given this device basically controls the patient’s life and when used incorrectly can and has killed patients.  Tandem correctly understood that we now live in a smartphone world and the old pager design of pumps no longer fits with today’s more tech savvy consumers.

Yet even with its appealing design the t:slim has a mere fraction of the huge share Medtronic has.  While there are several reasons for this disparity in share, the superior design of the t:slim does not always win out when it comes time for patients to select a pump. The harsh reality is for Tandem is Medtronic for all their problems is well known within the marketplace, has been around forever and has more favorable formulary position.

Only recently have we seen Tandem and Insulet (NASDAQ:PODD), the makers of the wireless OmniPod system, start to chip away at Medtronic’s huge installed user base. Yet even with these recent inroads Medtronic still holds a commanding share and unless they totally screw things up, and with Medtronic this is possible, it’s likely to stay that way. Perhaps the best way to think of this is to think of the Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks and their home field advantage. The same can said about Medtronic as they have the advantage of being the incumbent and they will press this advantage any way they can.

Put more simply the burden is not on Medtronic rather Insulet and Tandem, as they must not just convince the patient that there particular system is better but also on par price wise.  They must also convince physicians and educators, two groups which influence pump selection; they will be around for the long haul supporting the patient, taking some of the burden off their already over-burdened shoulders.  Anyone who doesn’t think is important just ask any physician, educator and patient who was on the now defunct Cozmo insulin pump. Or think about what must be going through the minds of this same group now that Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), makers of the Animas system is getting ready to exit the insulin pump business.

It would also be worthwhile asking why if systems like the Contour USB and iBGStar, two of the four products on the list, two systems backed by large and established players; Bayer and Sanofi, why design didn’t matter.  Again the answer like with pumps isn’t simple, however given the poor performance of these two systems in the marketplace it can said with confidence better design didn’t help much.

For months now Diabetic Investor has been talking about the changes that are taking place in the diabetes device world. How interconnected diabetes management (IDM) will soon become the norm not the exception. How soon a patient’s smartphone will become the centerpiece of their diabetes management regimen. How companies like Apple, Google, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic are not just tech savvy but also known for innovative design, could forever change the device landscape. We’ve written of many of the newcomers who have way cool very well designed products.

It would be wise for everyone in the diabetes device world, the old guard and newbie’s alike to take a long look at that list. To explore why with superior design these products aren’t marker leaders. Why if the design was so great did a product like the iBGStar fail, or why the Contour USB isn’t used by more patients.  To look deeply at Tandem understanding that design can matter but by itself will not transform a product into a commercial success.

To Diabetic Investor perhaps the best take away here is that design does matter but it’s not the only thing that does. That when it comes to the wacky world of diabetes devices just like football a winning team plays all facets of the game well not just one.