Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

The Value of Design Black Pin reflects a multi-million dollar investment in design of all kinds, in all sorts of organisations.

The effects driven by that investment are truly good for New Zealand. 

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare received the inaugural Value of Design Black Pin.

Value of Design Black Pin - Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Fifty years ago, in the early days of design training in New Zealand, a concerned and motivated doctor and engineer, from the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, approached Fisher & Paykel for help solving a problem with dry respiratory gases being used on patients.They collaborated to add humidity to mechanical ventilation using a preserving jar and some piping – a quintessential piece of number-eight wire innovation. From that clever piece of thinking we can fast forward through five decades of increasingly sophisticated product development, the result of which is a company that has become New Zealand’s largest hi-tech exporter. A company that has consistently championed design processes resulting in sustainable commercial growth.

Throughout all those years of change, there have been two constants that drive Fisher & Paykel’s people still: putting the patient at the centre of everything – to spark new thinking and, consequently, innovation; and two, placing designers close to the patient – which results in empathetic thinking and meaningful solutions.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare should take pride in its work; last year the company’s products helped 14 million people, in hospitals and at home, giving patients not just an improved quality of life but often life itself. One of the company’s areas of expertise is the treatment of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It’s a condition that tests Fisher & Paykel Healthcare’s ability to innovate to the full, because, for starters, because no one wants to wear a mask and pump in bed, and secondly, making it stay on comfortably when the physics of breathing wants to push it off is the trickiest of design paradoxes. However, the company’s success in this area can be seen in its potent growth, with a billion dollars in sales cracked last year.

Mike Barrett discusses Fisher & Paykel Healthcare’s Value of Design Black Pin with Chris Nightingale, general manager of the company’s OSA sector

Chris, congratulations to you and your colleagues on winning this award. Shall we have a quick recap on the genesis of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare for those perhaps familiar with the fridges, ovens and washing machines, but less familiar with the hospital, homecare and surgical products?

Thank-you. We are honoured and privileged to be acknowledged with this award. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare became a listed company, separate from Fisher & Paykel Appliances, back in 2001. We’ve been two entirely distinct companies since then, and we don’t share design resources.

That said, we do have many decades of shared history, including the utilisation of some F&P Appliances motor technology which helped establish some of our earlier products. What we also have in common are company founders who had a relentless commitment to solving problems in the appliances business, and they applied that knowledge to improving outcomes for patients.

We still both have a culture of original thinking and immersive experiences which leads to the innovative solutions required to create better products, processes and practices.

Here's a general question – if you could name a couple of factors at FPH that have contributed to innovation through design what do you think they would be?

I would say, a fundamental belief of doing what is best for our patients and collaboration – using a multi-disciplined diverse team approach, while evolving and validating our ideas with our end users. That combined with having an underdog mentality, where we are driven to deliver innovative products that address a real need and ultimately changes clinical practice.

You’ve been designing successful products and services consistently across decades, but what are the challenges of today?

There are always new challenges and we are never complacent about being competitive. Being in such a heavily regulated industry brings its own challenges, however, ultimately the aim is to reduce healthcare costs and improve patient care and outcomes by minimising the burden on the healthcare system. Our continuum of care aims to reduce the intensity of care in the hospital, such as from intensive care units to the hospital ward, and ultimately to provide treatment in the home where the patient can remain independent in a more comfortable setting. This places less burden and cost on the healthcare system, whilst still providing optimum treatment to the patient. To do this we need to develop and evolve therapies and ultimately change clinical practice, and this is without doubt the biggest challenge we face.

We live in an age of data now – has that changed the skills and processes required to effect and sustain good medical product design?

Not only does data confirm efficacy of care but it also enables efficiency of care. Integrating sensors in devices helps to optimise the delivery of therapy, by measuring numerous variables and responding with custom algorithms. Also, those sensors in combination with Bluetooth and IoT connectivity can provide detailed, anonymised and aggregated data. With access to that data we can provide actionable insights which help to focus on patients need, leading to better outcomes. This has become a core skill requirement within our business, and we have numerous roles and teams that focus on sensor design, data reporting and analytics. The old adage that “if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it” still rings true, and we are fortunate that in this day and age it is further enabled by the plethora of technology available.

Your patient-centric design approach has been described as a key to success. Can you provide any examples of the ways you bring designers and patients together? Is it field work, clinics, workshops, what does it look like in real terms?

Each multi-disciplined team within the business is focused on a particular therapy and patient demographic to ensure a deeper understanding of the environment in which our product is used, along with the individual needs of that patient and therapy. Be that an intensive care unit for our hospital products, or a patient’s home or sleep lab for our homecare products. It is through observation our teams gather the most valuable insights on problem solving and this is where they develop true empathy for the patient.

We have dedicated clinical and marketing teams to help coordinate and conduct development clinical user trials and provide market and customer insight to help develop and evaluate our products.  We are fortunate to have a dedicated and empathetic team that works with numerous patient demographics, customers, labs, hospitals and physicians around the world. We also have great facilities on site with our own sleep-lab, collaboration spaces and usability rooms that mimic the home environment or hospital ward.

Is there anything you can tell me about the ways your product and design teams work that readers might find interesting or surprising? 

One of the most impressive things as a product designer at F&P Healthcare, besides working with the many talented people we have, is the tools and processes that we have access to. In very few places in the world would a graduate or new addition to a design team be able to sketch up a concept, model it in CAD, design an injection-mould tool, write the CNC code for it, machine it and injection-mould those prototype components and test them. Often all within the same week, or even the same day in some cases.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a state-of-of-the-art CNC mill, a 3D printer, sewing machine or a hot glue gun. We have the tools, equipment, skills and enthusiasm to conceive an idea, make it and test it. All with the aim of creating products that help solve problems for our customers and patients. I can’t think of a more enjoyable environment to be a product designer.

F&P Healthcare is New Zealand's largest high-tech exporter – 50 years, one billion dollars in sales and 14 million patients helped in the last year alone. They are impressive stats, but in terms of scale, how do they stack up globally?

We’re certainly humbled and very proud of our success over the last 50 years. In terms of our hospital and homecare product groups, we are among the top companies globally in our segment, although we’re competing against some very large and well established international companies that are many times our size. That said, we continue to grow at an enviable rate, and our aims is to double in revenue every five to six years. The global opportunity for our therapies is massive, so we still believe we have a lot of room for growth.

You’re a global company, is your design workforce similarly global?

About half of our employees are based in New Zealand and the other half are working in more than 30 countries. Our R&D and product design functions are based exclusively in New Zealand, where we have world-class healthcare, efficient and effective processes for conducting clinical trials, and strong links with industry and universities for recruiting talented staff.

Although our product designers are generally New Zealand raised and trained, we are also fortunate that we can attract and retain international talent from around the globe because of what we do and of course where we live. We are a global company and the diversity and quality of our staff reflects that. Our design team is no exception.

On a personal level, what is it about the culture F&P Healthcare that gives you the most satisfaction? 

We’re a successful international company with a small company mentality and we’re dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives through the products we make and the service we provide. If something needs doing, or an issue needs resolving, we all just get stuck-in to achieve it while working to an incredibly high standard. I’m proud to consider Fisher & Paykel Healthcare as an excellent example of what can be achieved with great people and outstanding ideas. It just goes to show that a small company, which was started in our small corner of the globe, can mix it on the world stage with the best of industry. We have been successful but have never lost our continual drive to improve and innovate.

This Black Pin is for the value of design – can you actually quantify that value, or is it to an extent intangible?

It is absolutely tangible and quantifiable. The marriage of form and function with real benefits and outcomes has helped establish us as the company we are today. Although the economics of cost and market opportunity are still important aspects of a successful business, it is through design that we innovate to solve problems, provide value to our customers and patients, and differentiate ourselves from our competitors.