The Connected Engineer: How Welch Allyn is Conquering the World in the Era of IoT




On the latest episode of The Connected Engineer, David Kellner of Welch Allyn, a leading global manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment, speaks about what drove them to adopt a smart, connected product strategy.

Flashback to 2010 and Welch Allyn is like many other medical device companies, some of their products are connected, some are "kind of connected," and some are not.  One of their primary markets, vital signs monitors, is a highly competitive, crowded market. Welch Allyn is one of many companies that make multiparameter patient vital signs devices that take multiple readings including blood pressure, temperature, etc. With the recent entry of multiple lower cost, imported device prices and profit margins are decreasing, Welch Allyn had a major decision to make: race their competition to the bottom of the market or find a way to differentiate themselves.

Welch Allyn (clearly) chose the path of differentiation, introducing the Connex Vital Signs Monitor and turning a mature market on its head.  They were able to set new entry stakes in the vital signs monitors market while stimulating growth and blocking the competition.  

Kellner says of the process: "We are going to have to sit down, understand the challenges our customers are having; what motivates them, what frustrates them, what are the problems that they are having in their space and how can we innovate to make a product that is really different."

How Quality Led Welch Allyn to a new Product Development Process

Welch Allyn recognized that companies were rapidly converting from mixed electronic and paper records to complete electronic records. The paperless workflow offered many benefits that their customers valued, such as quickly obtaining information without the fear of critical data getting lost, getting the right information to the right patients, and eliminating transcription errors. Additionally, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided incentives for healthcare providers to implement EMR systems, providing an additional drive for customers to adopt a paperless workflow. 

To take advantage of this shift in the market, Welch Allyn needed a bedside device that could fully record not just patient vital signs but put it in context of which patient, which clinician, exactly when it happened, and instantaneously push it into the customer record. David and his team knew they wouldn’t get there by just making a few updates to an existing product, they had to build a new product from scratch. 

Before Welch Allyn started to develop this new product, they started by spending a lot of time with customers and learning the subtle but important differences across geographies. For example, they needed to know how and why hospitals in France take vital signs a different way than hospitals in the UK, how some hospitals have special compliance requirements, and that some hospitals are ready for a WIFI connected product while others have encrypted networks. From there, they needed to figure out what architecture they could develop that would be both modular and adaptable so that it could work globally. 

David discusses how the hardest part of designing a smart, connected product isn’t about figuring out how to engineer the product, its figuring out what problem you are trying to solve: 

"If you understand the customer and what their needs are and what their problems are and you understand that better than anybody else does, then you can figure out how to do it and how to do it really well and really build a great product."

Listen to David and the rest of the Welch Allyn story on our podcast to learn how they are conquering the world by applying practical innovations that helped healthcare professionals deliver more advanced and comprehensive care, optimize their time and skill, and improve their patients' outcomes.