Is the Future of Health 'Stuck to Me'

Innovation is easy, implementation is hard. These are the challenges, opportunities and surprises (a la silly putty) that come about during the medical product development process.

Based on a trend in current programs we are seeing and technologies coming out of academic laboratories it appears more than likely that in the not so distant future medical devices will be stuck somewhere to our bodies as we go about or daily lives. Diagnostic, therapeutic and monitoring devices are not only wearable but also supplying medication, therapies and information alike in real time. Unlike devices of yore these new wearable diddies integrate with our daily routines through real time operation rather than controlling our routines around intermittent regimens. These ‘Smart Band-Aids’ as they’re known are increasingly discreet and have minimal impact on our clothes choices nor the activities that we conduct as part of our normal life. They are connected to our phones, our physicians and our caregivers, they know where we are and what and HOW we are doing.

On the design and development side this has given rise to a whole new area of study around adhesive technologies. Understanding where something has to stick and for how long is only part of the puzzle. Understanding what loading it must maintain means understanding more than the intended use of the device but also careful consideration around the type and age of the user and body topography like the nature and density of nerves, hairs or sweat glands. Skin on the elderly can be paper thin, children present form factors that are difficult, and a hirsute individual poses conformity issues. Consideration must also be given to the exposure to the environmental factors such as perspiration based on the user’s activity level, showering, swimming, etc. Balancing competing requirements such as high adhesion to keep the product on with the user’s requirement of easy removal without discomfort or skin damage is a key development challenge. Dialing in the appropriate solution depends not only on the adhesive choice but the selection of backing material. A combination of standardized bench testing, bench testing using a skin proxy and user wear testing are often necessary.

Additional considerations around safaround safety include making sure that the product has adequate breathability which is measured by moisture vapor transfer rate (MVTR). This is a measure of the material’s ability it to transmit moisture from the skin which is necessary to prevent skin maceration. For each application the wear time and need for repositioning must be considered. Appropriate solutions to address these types of factors can be achieved through adjusting adhesive chemistry, coating weight, adhesive pattern coating, and selection on the backing material.

Getting anything to stick to anyone is a challenge, compensating for variation in individual skin surfaces, yet another, but the big problem is always getting it off without pain.

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Aidan Petrie is chief innovation officer and cofounder for Ximedica. He has multiple published articles on design leadership and industrial design in the medical industry. He has spoken on development process, human factors, and the implications of changing demographics on the medical industry. Petrie is an adjunct faculty member to the Industrial Design program at Rhode Island School of Design, and sits on the Foundation Board of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Based on firsthand knowledge and industry trends he draws deeply from his design lens and share lessons learned from the trenches, how to lead change and cultivate ideas that impact outcomes.