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Bringing a ConsumerMed Device Home

Bringing a ConsumerMed Device Home
A design expert offers advice on designing "ConsumerMed" products for home use, including important considerations for training, patient input, ease-of-use, and connectivity.  

A design expert offers advice on designing "ConsumerMed" products for home use, including important considerations for training, patient input, ease-of-use, and connectivity.  

Marie Thibault

It's no wonder that consumer medical devices are a rapidly expanding space. These over-the-counter products quite literally let patients take their health and beauty concerns into their own hands with effective treatments in the privacy of their own homes.

Hear Kevin Young speak about Top Trends Impacting the healthcare IoT in 2017 at the BIOMEDevice Boston Conference on May 4.
But medical device and consumer device makers who are looking to develop ConsumerMed devices face a host of new challenges. How can the product be designed to be intuitive to use? How can the maker ensure that users are using the product correctly? What matters to the target patient audience? And what's the right approach to incorporating Internet connectivity into such a product?

Kevin Young, senior vice president of product experience at global innovation design consultancy Continuum, recently spoke with MD+DI about these hurdles. Young has firsthand experience with designing a ConsumerMed device. Continuum worked with Iluminage Beauty Inc., a joint venture between Unilever Ventures and Syneron Medical, to develop the Skin Smoothing Laser. The laser has received FDA approval for home use to treat wrinkles around the mouth and eyes.

Building a Credible, Safe Product that Users Want to Keep Using

There were a few key considerations for the Skin Smoothing Laser in the beginning: credibility, safety, and adherence.


Credibility is very important for this category of devices. Clinical effectiveness of the Skin Smoothing Laser was demonstrated through a blind study conducted by a third party. "You had to create credibility. That was very important for the success of the product but also for a brand like Unilever. They didn't want to put something out there that didn't have proven results," Young says.


Ensuring the Skin Smoothing Laser would be safe meant the device had to be designed to prevent the user from activating the laser near or on the eye. Young explains that this issue was tackled by requiring skin contact before the laser could be fired.


Encouraging patient adherence, which is always an issue with any health product, meant the laser had to become part of their users' lives. "People get excited, they buy [the product], and then they drop off in usage over time. The phrase we used on this project was we didn't want this product to end up in the bathroom 'drawer of death'" Young notes.

In order to increase adherence, it was important to make the Skin Smoothing Laser quick and exciting to use. Users are encouraged to use the laser for two minutes each night. That seems like a short time, but Young points out that most people don't even brush their teeth for the recommended two minutes each night. "This is a key area where Continuum balanced both halves of our collective brains, because we can bring in the technical, medical knowledge to make this a safe and effective device, and then from the consumer side, we can bring in our knowledge of creating design solutions that resonate with the target audience," Young explains.

Here's how the design and development team tackled the adherence challenge:

Get to Know Your Target Audience, One Person at a Time

Making the Skin Smoothing Laser part of users' routines meant the design and development team needed to learn what these users' lives looked like and what mattered most to them. Young says that this research process started with one-on-one home interviews with women. "We feel very strongly that one-on-one testing yields much more powerful results," Young says. "We test early enough in the process that we're still evolving design . . .You can't get that richness out of group testing."

These interviews led the Skin Smoothing Laser team to a very important finding. Young says that going into the process, the team's hypothesis was that the device should feel technical and medical. But instead, he says, that wasn't a priority for the target users. "The reality is, for this target audience, a lot of them have gone to the dermatologist or spa and they've had laser treatments, so they fundamentally trust the technology."

That finding directed the design team to a new finding: The product should reflect the beauty of what the product offered and should be something the user would want to display. "The visual design expression of it was a significant focus in the research," Young says.

Create an Intuitive User Experience and Training Process

Training users on the Skin Smoothing Laser presented a unique challenge because it was a "new-to-the-world device," Young points out. As a result, every feature of the laser had to be extremely intuitive.

To address this, the team came up with shorthand approaches to treat various areas. For example, users are guided, through images, on how many pulses to deliver in the area around the eyes. In user testing, invisible ink and exposure under UV light following use of the laser made it clear if the laser had been applied correctly.

An additional feature of the Skin Smoothing Laser that lends itself to user adherence is the device's IoT connectivity. Users are prompted to connect to their personal profile online, where they can see device usage, track progress, and if they take photos of their main treatment areas, they can see changes over time. "When we tested that idea, it was by far the most powerful in completing the feedback loop, helping encourage them to use it, and see those results." Young says.

This connectivity also allows patients to interact with the community of other users, which can keep them engaged. Of course, as with any product related to health and aesthetics, privacy can be a concern.  Acknowledging that, Young says, "The way the site is set up, you have that ability to, if you want, keep everything to yourself."

Think Seriously about Partnerships

Just as medical device and technology companies have created partnerships to develop health tech wearables and software, partnerships may be key to succeeding in the ConsumerMed space as well. Young points out the two industries are very different and are both fast-moving, making it a challenge for a company that specializes in one type of product to keep on top of both areas.

If a partnership is not possible, then staying focused on the device's target audience is a priority. Young urges interested companies to "Go to the source . . . Really speak with [your target audience] about what's important for them . . . What are their higher level needs and desires?"

Marie Thibault is the associate editor at MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @medtechmarie

[Image courtesy of CONTINUUM LLC]

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