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Considerations for Designing Home Health Devices

Different materials, different finishes, and even different economics should be considered for home-use medical devices, say experts from a polymer manufacturer.

Image by raphaelsilva from Pixabay 

“Home healthcare is all about the patient experience,” said Doug Hamilton, global healthcare segment leader at Covestro, told MD+DI. He noted that people generally have a better experience when they can be treated in their homes. And for some patients in remote areas far away from the nearest hospital or clinic, home-use devices can even be lifesaving.

However, these products, while meant to achieve similar results as their hospital-use counterparts, are not used in quite the same manner when in the home, and manufacturers should be aware of the differences in how their devices will be used early in the design stage. And a lot of device makers already are doing this.

“On the manufacturing and OEM level, they’re thinking to themselves, ‘we’re already making these healthcare devices, and what we need to do is to transition them to a home healthcare environment,’” said John Skabardonis, PhD, strategic marketing communications--healthcare & design outreach at Covestro.

And it’s exactly that transition that is the challenge. The team at Covestro mentioned several factors that manufacturers should keep in mind when designing these home-use products.

First, they should be rugged, and able to withstand errors by users. “The overall equipment being used has to be made robust for people who are not experts, who are not comfortable with calibrating and working with very finely created pieces of equipment,” said Hamilton. “You have to make sure the product is rugged across of variety of different layers that wouldn’t exist in the hospital environment,” he said.

For example, how the device might be cleaned needs to be accounted for, said Lauren Zetts, Americas Healthcare Segment Manager, at Covestro. “When someone is using a device at home, designers should consider a different suite of cleaning materials or chemicals that people might use,” she said. She cited the case of someone who might use a household cleaner or every day lotions, not understanding how those products might interact with their medical device.

How the products look and how seamlessly they appear in the user’s home is also an important consideration, said Zetts. Many patients are used to consumer electronics and they may not want something in their living rooms or bedrooms that looks like it might be used in the hospital. “The user experience (UX) is more and more important,” said Skabardonis. “Along with the UX, you have material considerations, such as color and different finishes.” He noted that Covestro can provide guidance on those aspects, with a chain of color and design centers around the world.

Whether the device is single-use or reusable is also a factor and should bring up several questions for the designer, said Hamilton. “What is the preferred sterilization method? Is it a device that arrives safely sterilized with gamma irradiation and you use it once and then it’s done? Is the infrastructure set up so that it can be sterilized appropriately?” He said that materials selection in these cases sometimes may not be based on how it will be used, but on how it might be safely disposed or reused.

Additionally, manufacturers must balance financial considerations. “An expensive component that might work in a device that is used on multiple patients may not be economically viable in a device that is used once by a single patient,” Hamilton said.

“That’s where the push-pull and the balance has to come in,” said Skabardonis. “If you have a cutting-edge consumer-oriented company, they very well may want to differentiate their brand by employing different materials, and different finishes, and different usability to their devices. Where others may think that is not needed. So now you start seeing the whole spectrum of potential costs, complexity, performance requirements, etc.”

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard is a freelance contributor to MD + DI.

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