It seems as though technological developments are constantly pushing the boundaries of medical device capabilities, applications, and package size. But some patients who rely on critical devices, such as insulin pumps, bemoan that while product functionality is advancing at a spectacular pace, aesthetics and design are lagging far behind.
Amy Tenderich, who writes the popular blog DiabetesMine (www.diabetesmine.com), posted an open letter last year to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, soliciting him to have his team tackle medical product design. In it, Tenderich lauds the iPod for revolutionizing consumer electronics with its functionality, intuitive interface, and, perhaps most of all, sleek design. She wonders: Why can’t these user-friendly features and eye-catching designs be applied to critical devices, too?
“In short, medical device manufacturers are stuck in a bygone era; they continue to design these products in an engineering-driven, physician-centered bubble,” Tenderich writes. “They have not yet grasped the concept that medical devices are also life devices, and therefore need to feel good and look good for the patients using them 24/7, in addition to keeping us alive.”
Building on the momentum generated from last year’s post, Tenderich this year held a design challenge. Submissions from a range of amateur designers included a glucose-strip dispenser with a built-in disposable container modeled after Pez candy dispensers and a device for young children that gives them and their caregivers easily identifiable color cues to indicate glucose levels.
Obviously, feasibility is likely an obstacle to actualizing such designs. But hosting and drawing inspiration from such contests could be a valuable way of appeasing users and creating a product that they genuinely like. The submissions to the DiabetesMine challenge proved to blend aesthetics and practicality—not to mention that they were designed in many cases by actual users of diabetes devices.
For insulin pumps and similar products, functionality and accuracy are paramount. However, a user-friendly and inconspicuous design can potentially go a long way. These attributes can increase patient compliance and improve quality of life. They can even cultivate brand loyalty and promote differentiation in the marketplace.
“If a medical device uses some of the same interaction metaphors as a consumer electronics product, then the medical device may be easier for the patient to learn and safer to use,” muses Matthew Jordan, insulin pump user and director, research and interaction design, of Insight Product Development (Chicago; www.insightpd.com). “Similarly, consumer electronic aesthetics, when applied to medical devices, may make the device seem more familiar and approachable for the patient.”
Although development times and functionality concerns can impose certain limitations on critical device design, it might behoove OEMs of diabetes products and other such “life devices” to try and better tap into patient needs and wants. Through blogs and amateur contests, patients are expressing their dissatisfaction with current models. Be the first to heed the call.