The Need for Greater Inclusivity in MedTech

5 min read

Each month we try to talk about doing what matters. In that spirit, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Nada Hanafi, Chief Strategy Officer of Experien Group, LLC. and Co-founder of MedTech Color (MTC), whom I had the good fortune to hear at the MedTech Vision conference a few months ago. Nada has had an impressive career, including more than a dozen years with the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) where she led programs such as the Health of Women and Patient Preferences Initiative, and was a panelist at the MedTech Vision 2015 conference. At that conference, she had a conversation with one of the founders of MedTech Women, an organization behind the annual conference with a vision to highlight women leaders in the medtech sector, and simply asked, “Where are all the women of color?”

MedTech Color’s goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive medtech community. With the changing demographic landscape, she believes that more must be done to ensure diversity is advanced in all industries but especially healthcare. The key is to build a community that is actively trying to deliver better and more individualized care to more patients. I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with her and learn more.

How do you see this lack of inclusion manifesting in the healthcare industry today?

There is a tremendous lack of diversity at the executive level of medical device companies, life sciences VC companies, hospital systems and even physicians. But this gap even shows up in clinical trials. The FDA reportedthat African-Americans, for example, comprise 13.2% of the population, but only 5% of clinical trial participants, while Hispanic patients represent 16% of the population, but just 1% of participants. Meanwhile, Caucasians account for 67% of the population and 83% of research participants. So clearly there is a gap that needs to be rectified.

"Diversity adds incredible strength to an organization and adds to the richness of the ideas and solutions to overcome challenging problems."

How did the founding members of MedTech Color come together to try to make meaningful change?

As we sat around talking, we all had similar experiences that we knew weren’t right. We realized that the majority of the population doesn’t have any sort of mental roadmap for how to relate to and work with someone different from themselves. In an organization that's diverse and inclusive, executives, engineers, device developers and providers end up being better agents to develop meaningful and impactful products and services that can really help patients, as they understand and can relate more easily to patients’ needs. We need to be intentional in our efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce that is representative of the patients we serve. It’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do and to better serve a company’s bottom line.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that just 20% of U.S. high-tech executives, senior officers and management are women, including in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing and medical equipment and supplies manufacturing. If we break it down further within that 20% of women in the C-suite, to race and ethnic diversity, the divide is even more stark: 83.31% are Caucasian, 10.55% are Asian-American, 3.11% are Hispanic and just 1.92% are African-American. This is not because women or minorities don’t have the ambition or drive to make it to the C-suite level, but it’s the historical institutional policies that limit their progression, and we need to continue our collective work to change this.

Throughout my career, I have consistently been one of only (i.e. the only female in the room, the only young black woman of color in the room, or the youngest person on the team), and there is negative pressure that can come with that. Now through MedTech Color, we can come together to positively affect change and disrupt the status quo so other people of color, women of color, and women and minorities in general are no longer the “only one” in the room and contending with the negative pressures that can lead to.

You shared that there is perhaps a lack of understanding about how diseases manifest. There are an unprecedented number of multicultural and intercultural marriages creating new ethnicities. What are the implications of that and what needs to be addressed?

By the year 2043, we will be a country where the majority of our population is comprised of racial and ethnic minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections. As such, we need to evolve our thinking in how we bring meaningful medical device solutions to this evolving patient population. We need to recognize that the population isn’t necessarily becoming whiter, or that women aren’t just little men, and that an African-American with genetic lineage from one country in Africa is going to have unique genetic differences than an African-American from the Caribbean—all which might result in different disease manifestations, symptoms, etc. New healthcare issues are being sparked that need nuanced solutions. The FDA now requires product developers who submit applications for medical devices to analyze clinical trial data by sex, age, and race/ethnicity. When segments of the population are not included in clinical trials at levels that do not meet statistical significance, it’s impossible to determine if the therapy in question will work equally, better, or worse for the population in which it is not studied. That’s why diversity in clinical studies is essential to better inform product innovation and develop viable and effective solutions to address important public health issues.

What does "inclusion" mean to you?

Including different genders, races/ethnicities, ages, backgrounds and experiences within medtech organizations. By incorporating all these perspectives, we can address problems more impactfully and effectively. A good example of this is how the FDA is approaching the digital health initiative where they are working with industry and seeking external experts—software developers, AI experts, data analysts—to prepare to regulate a future in which healthcare is increasingly driven by machine learning. As well as the patient engagementinitiative where the FDA is recognizing the importance of including the patient voice in regulatory decision making, so that once again the products that make it to market are those of the upmost importance to our diverse nation.

"More must to be done to ensure diversity is advanced in all industries but especially healthcare."

As we soon head into 2019, what are you most excited about for MedTech Color?

We’ve incorporated as a 501c organization and are mapping out what the next two years will hold. We’re going to build the data and a community to show that increasing diversity is the right and smart thing to do. I believe everyone is entitled to health, even if that means different things to different people, so let us be inclusive in our approach to truly account for people’s differences in the products we are developing to improve their health. Better determining how as entrepreneurs within our given area of influence and expertise we can be thoughtful in our strategies and approaches to consider and then actually realize the positive impact of inclusion. We need to come together as an industry and a community to pull each other up.

How can people get involved in changing the diversity in the medtech space?

At MedTech Color, everyone is welcomed! Connect with us on LinkedIn or submit a form here. We’re looking for mentors, sponsors, and people with ideas on how we can build a more inclusive industry to better serve patients.

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